- Part Two of the story of Opus Oils’ ‘Les Bohemes’ collection – and a swell party…
Behind me stood a dark-haired man wearing a tux and a large, lupine grin on his face. Not tall, not young but nothing old, he had the look of someone who lived carefully but well. Italian ancestry was in the mix somewhere, if his nose were anything to judge by. A pair of flirting brown eyes seemed to be saying “Dessert. Definitely. Something with…chocolate.”
“My dance card is empty, I’m afraid.” What made me say that?
“I don’t take no for an answer.” Before I could blink, he swept me out on the floor, among the dancers and into a corte, holding me tight in the Argentine style, and I followed in perfect time and perfect step, no small achievement for someone who back in the twenty-first century had five left feet with one inch left over.
“Countess Giulietta Moovonova, was it?”
“Let me guess,” I flirted right back as he steered a self-assured course among the crowd on the dance floor, one hand on my back. “You must be Romeo.”
“I’m your host.” We turned, dipped, swirled back among the dancers. “Why is your dance card empty?”
“Well, usually, I prefer to simply sway in a dark corner.”
“ My favorite kind of corner. I prefer to do other things there, though,” he laughed back.
“Such as dally with dubious countesses?” Goodness, where did this come from, and how could I have learned to tango so perfectly from riding in a Duesenberg?
One black eyebrow lifted. Whether it was my conversation or the fact that I had just hooked him with a gancho, we both stopped on a dime. “Only when duchesses aren’t available. I have standards.” That lupine grin again, that warm hand on my back, burning through the silk.
A couple across the floor, the woman in a sunset-orange dress, gave us a look. Hers was quite approving. I took that as a good omen.
“’Quel dommage,” I sighed. “So do I.” He was so close. Two glasses of champagne made me feel more than a little reckless. “I’m sorry I’m not a duchess.”
Smooth as silk, we began to float over the tiles again, melody and harmony in motion and a music all our own, and as we turned and dipped and rose, he said after a while, “I’m not.”
Only in Hollywood could moments be so magical and tangos so perfect. I never wanted this one to end.
A long while, more champagne, many tangos and a whoopee-making dark corner later, I located a powder room where those glorious gals from the Packard breezer congregated in front of the mirrors, fixing bobs, reapplying makeup, adjusting stockings. None of them paid me any mind as I walked in.
“So who is that Sheba dancing with our host? The, ya know, Countess something?” asked the yellow dressed blonde as she spat into her mascara. “He must think she’s the cat’s pajamas. Those Europeans. Us American Janes can’t compete with all that. And she’s wearing a Vionnet, the minx. Saw it in Vogue last month.”
“Jealous, Gold Digger?” laughed the redhead. She ran her fingers through her hair. “Shouldn’t think he’d be your type.”
“He’s not.” Gold Digger replied, leaving narcissus and likely a lot of havoc in her wake, dug for a lipstick in her bag. It bore the name ‘Tangee’ in bold red lettering on the side of the tube. “Too demanding, I hear. And twisted with it, too. I like my sugar daddies grateful, ya know? A gal’s gotta look after herself, after all. Right, Jazz?” She turned to the girl in green who had hauled Tiger off to the garden. She emanated jasmine and a lot of promises she might or might not keep.
Jazz removed a bit of lipstick from her teeth. “Oh, I dunno…that fella, Count Vlad, he’s been looking after me all night in high style. I want to know where he found that champagne. That stuff is something else.”
“The bee’s knees,” agreed the beautiful brunette in white and tuberose and a suggestion of coconut. She sat down on a settee, unearthed a cigarette from a case in her purse, arranged it in a tortoiseshell holder, lit up and exhaled in a long, grateful sigh. “What a dancer sheik he is!”
“Li’l Nico, you would say that.” The violet-scented stunner in the beaded dress twirled up errant strands of black hair and readjusted the jeweled combs. “You jump on any swain you find!”
“She should talk, and you shouldn’t neither, Dapper…I saw you on the dance floor, all right.” The brunette in purple velvet had a distinct Southern drawl. “I don’t know what was in that bottle Bootleg found in that drawing room, but it was…” she swayed ever so slightly on her feet… “somethin’ else…”
“Speakeasy…” The orange blossom blonde sighed. “Have you been at the hooch again? Look at her! She’s absolutely spifflicated!”
“Heck, yes!” The redhead in the gold dress smoothed out an eyebrow and turned around. “She’s been at Bootleg too, can’t you tell?”
“Baloney! You should talk, Sugar, you carrying on that Charleston on the pool with High Hat.” Jazz bent down and straightened her stocking seams.
Orange Blossom pulled at the neckline of her dress. It seemed to have slipped a little lower since her arrival.
“Put a lid on it, ladies. Don’t be such bluenoses, would ya? Just because this is the swankiest party we’ve been to this week is nothing to get goofy about.” As she turned away from the mirror and toward the door, I walked all the way into the room and over to the mirror. The conversation came to a screaming halt.
Orange Blossom – already, I’d determined she was the leader of the pack – sashayed over and gave me her hand. “Hi!” she said brightly. “I’m Giggle Water, and this is…” her arm swept out to the other girls, “is Dapper, Sugar, Li’l Nico, Jazz and Gold Digger. That sauced brunette over there is Speakeasy. Obviously, she’s been doing a bit more than speakin’ easy with Bootleg all night!”
“Hello. I’m …Giulietta.” I turned toward the mirror. My lipstick was all gone, and no wonder. Those dark corners were dangerous. So were short, Italianate Big Cheeses.
“Is it true you’re from Europe?” asked Li’l Nico. “You and that swell Vlad fella?”
“Yes…” I repinned my hair, straightened my stockings.
“Ladies…” I heard a voice I knew at the door. It was Tiger. He sounded like he had intimate knowledge of quite a few bubbles in that enameled bottle. “Are you going to be in there all night?”
Eight women turned in perfect synchronicity to the mirrors and checked themselves one last time. Stocking seams straight? Necklines adjusted? Lipstick, mascara? Hair?
I pinned a rose in my chignon just a little tighter. One slightly spifflicated Sheba. Golly, that was a whole Breathalyzer in itself, I thought. The perfect time to misbehave!
In the foyer, Tiger pulled me away from the gals with a big smile and a slightly breathless “Later, girls!” In no time, I was parked on a sofa in one of the drawing rooms and there was champagne instead of air in my glass. Outside, the jazz band had kicked it up a notch. I could hear whoops and what sounded like Jazz and Speakeasy showing off their Charleston skills to the party crowd. “Where have you been, woman?”
“Misbehaving in a dark corner with the host,” I said and downed a bit more champagne. There wasn’t a lot left in the bottle by now. Soon, I gathered, our Duesenberg would turn into a Dodge. “I hear you made quite the impression on those gals outside, Count Vlad.”
He laughed. “I still have no idea why I picked those names.”
“Don’t tell me. It was the champagne.”
“That’s it! How could you guess?”
“Experience, darling. It’s such a witch.”
Meanwhile, Speakeasy had located eighteen feet of gleaming mahogany in the dining room next door, French doors open to the night outside. Faster than we could blink, Bootleg jumped up on the table and Speakeasy with him, and in no time, another crowd poured into the room like so much free hooch to admire their Charleston skills, up and down the length of the dining table like galvanized, jazzified tarantulas, all flashy silk and flashing eyes, while their audience clapped in time to the syncopated jazz beat. Right as Bootleg slid on his knees from one end to the other to stop adoring by Speakeasy’s feet, we heard a woman scream.
The entire party came to a halt in a heartbeat. Somehow, Tiger and I followed the direction that scream into the library, where a roaring poker game had been happening all night with a very full pot, and in a sofa at the other end of the room was the explanation for the scream. “But I did nothin’!” protested Gold Digger as the unflappable butler hauled an older, florid gentleman off her. “I’m on the level here, right guys?” She threw that statement at the poker players in the corner. “We were just kanoodlin’ on the sofa, see, and suddenly, he just goes all limp on me, see, and I didn’t know what else to do, so I…”
I never knew who it came from. It had to be one of the poker players. “Well, high time that bastard dropped dead. He owed me forty grand!”
It soon transpired that not only was the gentleman a rather important movie producer in big trouble, he was also utterly dead.
The way the butler acted, he was no stranger to dead bodies. He laid out the deceased on the Chesterfield and went in search of his master.
“Sic transit…” mumbled Tiger and poured more champagne. There wasn’t more than a glass total left in the bottle.
While we stood around wondering how to kickstart the party back, the host materialized out of nowhere.
“I’m so sorry, but we’ll have to continue some other time. The ambulance and the police are on their way now.”
In an instant, the poker pot, the chips and all the players evaporated from the room. Soon, a river of partygoers, those dazzling girls included poured out of the front doors and on to their waiting cars. Speakeasy and Bootleg staggered out to the Packard.
“Of course I’ll drive!” I heard Dapper say. “I’m the only one of you sauced bozos who can!”
Looking through the open front door, I was amazed to see the pink clouds of sunrise. Time did fly when you had fun!
“Count Vlad…” Romeo shook his hand. “Thank you for coming tonight. Some other time. Without fatalities, I hope.”
“Of course.” Tiger glanced down the hill, where the Packard disappeared in a cloud of dust and a roar of engine. Who knew what trouble those girls could get themselves into?
“Countess.” Romeo snapped me out of my reverie. It was past five AM, after all. “It’s been a pleasure.”
“It has,” I concurred. I tried not to think too hard about those brown eyes broadcasting right into my own. “Chocolate. Lots. Of. Chocolate.”
“Until the next time!” he reached out and kissed the palm of my hand. Before I could blush as pink as the dawn, Tiger hauled me off to our waiting Duesenberg, and before I could protest, we were heading down the hills toward Hollywood Boulevard and the Jitterbug Perfume Parlor.
“What a night!” Tiger split the last champagne between us. “Did we have fun? Did your wish come true?”
“Did we evuh!” I sighed happily. They would never believe me back home. Who cared? This was Hollywood. Where anything could happen, and last night just did.
A thick blanket of fog rolled down over the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific as we ate up the boulevard, so thick, the driver had to slow down as he went. All too soon, the Duesenberg came to a halt outside a building we could recognize, but the sign over the door said ‘Madame Movonova. Fortunes told, card readings. Satisfaction guaranteed.’
It was so strange. One moment, we stepped outside on the street in all our party finery, the next, I woke up on that chaise to Kedra peering down on me. A very empty bottle of Belle Epoque stood on the table. “You two…” she sighed.
Tiger stirred next to me. “Did we have fun last night?” he mumbled and sat up, looking slightly the worse for wear.
“Did we evuh!” I sang to my own surprise. My head throbbed in agreement.
We gave each other a look, a look Kedra couldn’t quite figure out. The instant before we both sang out in unison:
“What a swell party that was!”
The soliflore collection of Les Bohemes is available at Opus Oils, in Dapper (violet), Heavy Sugar (amber), Giggle Water (orange blossom), Li’l Nico (tuberose), High Hat (green tea), Speakeasy (wisteria), Jazz (jasmine), Gold Digger (narcissus) and Bootleg (vetiver). Guaranteed to kickstart any party. Take my word for that!
With thanks to all the inspirations…Kedra Hart, Tiger Powers, a Cole Porter song, a Duesenberg and a Madeleine Vionnet dress.
Image: From the 1928 MGM movie ‘Our Dancing Daughters’ starring Joan Crawford and Anita Page, taken from mothgirlwings.