When Hollywood invades a small California town named Eden, its young mayor will definitely stir up some trouble in paradise when he gets the hots for the newly divorced director.
By Saoirse the Irish Colleen
A/N: This isn't really a romance but an erotic/drama/comedy/mystery. Since AFF doesn't have a mystery category (and I really can't call this a suspense or thriller either) this is placed in the romance section because my target audience is women. I would like to actually see this in print since this is my SECOND serious attempt at a manuscript and am planning to submit this to Ellorascave.com. So if anyone enjoys this and would like to volunteer as my beta just e-mail me.
It was almost surreal when their silver SUV came to a stop some three feet from the white and sky blue billboard. Spelled out in gold tin letters that looked brand new: 'WELCOME TO EDEN: CALIFORNIA'S HIDDEN PARADISE. Pop. 2,500.'
"See! It's not so bad," Leticia Mangione announced to her despondent passengers. "'California's Hidden Paradise.' It just speaks for itself."
"Oh speak for yourself," grumbled Greta Chang heatedly flipping through her copy of the NME from the backseat. Leticia's Christian Dior shod foot pressed on the accelerator and entered the main stretch of road that would lead them smack onto Main Street. She pointedly ignored the waves of frustration rolling off the redhead occupying the passenger seat, knowing that getting the green light on this project- and only this project- was not at the heart of her consternation. Leticia noticed the marquise two-karat diamond solitaire on the redhead's left hand still there and frowned.
When is she going to take that damn thing off?
/The quartet in the SUV peered curiously out the windows as they rolled into downtown Eden. A collection of shops, restaurants and other small businesses sat upon red brick pavement flanking them on either side. Greta crooked a lengthy ebony eyebrow seeing a music store dubbed /Soundtrack in neon lights with a Top 20 chart in the display along with CD and movie posters. Chris Aaronovsky, seated beside Greta, kept his brown eyes on the large bike retailer, Tour de Force/. Leticia swiped the names of the quaint fashion boutiques with her eyes for her mental Rolodex after catching the brands /Versace/, /Coach and/ Gucci /in the windows. Leticia pulled up to the curb in front of the post office with the national and P.O.W.-M.I.A. flags flying overhead then cut the engine.
"We'll stop here and let the babies in the truck catch up." Leticia said unlocking herself from her seatbelt, Greta and Chris followed suit jumping out from the back. Exposed to the late afternoon sunlight, the three stretched trying to loose unused and cramped limbs.
"I gotta pee," Chris hissed.
"We passed the park a few blocks down. I think I saw a comfort station." Greta said to him.
"Why don't you two go get refreshed while we start making the rounds." Leticia suggested.
"Okay." Said Greta. Chris didn't bother to respond he just sprinted down the street lest he embarrass himself. Leticia flipped her wrist over checking her pink leather and Swarofski crystal Guess watch, 3:37 p.m.
"There should be enough time to get the preliminaries out of the way," Leticia spoke to herself as she dug through her brown suede shoulder bag trying to unearth the necessary documents to start assigning tasks. "Charlotte do you have the petitions we filed to present to the Town Council?" When Leticia got not response from the redhead she assumed her friend was just being difficult. "Charlotte?" She asked a bit forcefully until she spun round and saw that Charlotte was still in the car. Leticia walked over to the passenger side window and saw Charlotte still in her seatbelt with a blank look staring at nothing. "Charlotte?" Leticia grasped her shoulder and the redhead gasped sharply turning to look at her.
"What is it?" Charlotte fluttered her hazel eyes feeling jetlagged.
"I said we're here. Get out of the car, honey." Self-consciously Charlotte Stratemeyer tucked the few errant wisps of hair back behind her ears before jumping from Leticia's SUV. Almost forgetting her purse, she followed Leticia across the street to stand under the overhang of a florist. "Do you have the petitions?"
"They're in my binder in the truck... which is not present at the moment." Charlotte shrugged.
Leticia growled. "Don't our production assistants have excellent senses of direction?"
"Oh give them a break, Tish! We're not exactly doing a spot on the Kennedys here." Charlotte scoffed folding her arms across her chest.
"Very cute," Leticia shot back. "Listen, I've got some of the permits we have to file, I'll go find the sheriff's office while you go wake the lord mayor from his naptime."
They agreed to meet back at the post office in an hour; cell phones, as always, to be kept on. Having so thoroughly researched Eden for the project, Charlotte got on her Treo/, went online and acquired a /Google satellite map of Eden. Town Hall was five blocks east on Vassar Boulevard. Interesting. Charlotte navigated all around the map and saw that many of the streets were named for Ivy League schools. Charlotte skipped through tree lined streets with charming iron benches bolted to the pavement, cafes with outdoor seating were already bustling and kids having just emerged from school flooded the arcade and fast food stops. She stood at the intersection and saw an immaculate white building with Roman columns topped with a dome taking up an entire block and assumed correctly she was at Town Hall.
Charlotte's black leather slingbacks clicked up the flight of narrow steps and she walked through the open double doors. The antechamber was entirely made of marble, all earth tones and off white. Cyan vellum curtain fell to the floor pulled back from the long windows; on the walls were portraits of Eden's founding fathers, the names were all unfamiliar to Charlotte. She approached the tall security desk with a uniformed guard looking ready for retirement scanning a copy of Gulf & Stream and cleared her throat for his attention. He fumbled and dropped the magazine, his sweet chubby face brightened to a new shade of red.
"Can I help you, miss?" The guard asked politely.
"Yes," Charlotte began, "I'd like to know where I could find the administration offices?" The guard congenially leaned over and pointed down the hall to her left.
"Right down that passageway. You can't miss it."
"Thank you." Charlotte adjusted the skinny purse strap on her right shoulder and walked down the corridor as instructed. The walls were a spotless white and there were plants and artwork everywhere, Charlotte was certainly impressed with the sophistication of this hick town. The classy glass double doors that led to administration were open and in the lobby were several burgundy leather couches. Behind the huge cambered varnished mahogany desk was the secretary; the keystrokes she made at the PC were fast and furious. Part of her blonde hair was pulled up in a bun, Charlotte could see silver streaking it, but she couldn't guess at her age. The secretary had an attractive matronly figure, she wore a crisp cream silk blouse and had pearl and diamond cluster earrings on with a simple gold herringbone chain around her neck. She had the light bronzing of a tan from what Charlotte could tell.
"Excuse me." Charlotte said, the secretary hardly looking perturbed which came as a shock to Charlotte detached herself from her work. "Sorry to be disturbing you."
"Not at all dear." The secretary smiled genuinely. "How can I help you?" Reflexively Charlotte unzipped her little black purse and whipped out a business card. Taking two steps closer to the desk she saw etched elegantly on a fingerprint-free thick glass nameplate, Violet Novak.
"You can call me Violet, dear. Everyone does." Another shock. Los Angeles, a mere six hour drive south of Eden may as well be a solar system away. "Violet it is," she corrected herself. "My name is Charlotte Stratemeyer, and I'm from United Film Organization Pictures." Charlotte handed Violet the card to which the secretary lifted a tiny pair of oval-shaped glasses to her nose in order to read it clearly. Charlotte Stratemeyer; Director and Staff Writer U.F.O. Pictures; Los Angeles, CA; www.ufopictures.com; email@example.com. The company's logo was even a flying saucer. "About six months ago, your town council and mayor were contacted by my company so that we may acquire permission to film a documentary in Eden." Charlotte paused but Violet simply blinked beatifically. "Unfortunately some of the documentation, specifically the copies of the petitions we submitted, is in our equipment truck that has not arrived quite yet. However, my producer Miss Leticia Mangione who your office communicated with at length, should be at the sheriff's office about now," Charlotte checked her modest Hilfiger steel link watch for dramatic effect, "with a few of the permits she had on her person with your sheriff."
Violet's face suddenly lit up as though struck by an epiphany from the mention of Leticia's name.
"Oh my God!" A look of happy surprise crossed Violet's face. "Now I remember! You're the murder house movie people!" Charlotte was clobbered by a mental two-by-four and taken back to that staff meeting six months earlier.
U.F.O. Pictures' brand spanking new headquarters in a white stucco building with glass and steel and a nifty metal sign in the grass plot outside with its infamous flying saucer owed its entire illusionary urbane existence to a 12-inch gold statuette: the Oscar. Ten years ago, the indie film company reached its peak of infamy at every rental store, comic-con, and cult fan club and in the direct-to-video-turned-DVD market with their over-the-top shootemups, slasher gorefests and soft core porn comedies that helped re-energize the B-movie genre. Until their cameraman Chris Aaronovsky stumbled right out of film school and onto their team, just to keep his three-room studio apartment in Ventura. Apparently the Slipknot-worshipping bike enthusiast did time as one of Greenpeace's more fundamentalist followers before mending his ways after nearly killing five fishermen when he and other Greenpeacers rammed their tugboat into a fishing boat they wrongly suspected of whaling in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.
This flint rock ignited a powerful spark in Charlotte's desperate-for-respectability-in-the-industry brain. The after dinner martinis she whipped up for her boss, Pietro "Das Petey" da Silva U.F.O. Pictures C.E.O., contributed to her getting the green light on her pitch about an ecoterrorism documentary. The runaway success of the film that took two years to complete (and Charlotte putting her house up for collateral something that her now ex-husband didn't discover until after the separation) on the festival circuit from Cannes to Toronto to Sundance picking up a slew of awards poleaxed the entire U.F.O. team. But no one was prepared for the Academy Award nomination, and they all felt like kindergarteners in their rented tuxes and gowns walking that red carpet in the company of filmmaking royalty and celebrities. And now their Oscar stood proudly under glass in the new staff meeting room where the team brainstormed for their next documentary.
Charlotte opened up a window on the overhead that displayed a map of Sudan on the white screen at the front of the room.
"The situation in Darfur is reaching critical mass," she began her pitch in a clear, confident voice. "And let's face it; the American public just doesn't give a damn about genocide." Charlotte met eyes briefly with Das Petey who sat impassively at the head of the long cherry table dressed in one of the more expensive three-piece suits from The Men's Warehouse/. "Do you know why philanthropists like Bono are so successful?" She asked expecting not a peep from her audience. "Aside from the 'celebrity status' and the whole /U2 thing, Bono is visual/! At his last concert he had 60,000 spectators text messaging their congressmen because of the streaming graphics of the African national flags on the big screens alone! With the success of /Hotel Rwanda/, /Sometimes in April and /Frontline's Ghosts of Rwanda/, the only way we could get the point of Sudan's crisis to the forefront is get our cameras on the battlegrounds!" Charlotte slammed a fist into an open palm, feeling like Joe DiMaggio at the World Series.
"So, I've spoken to my dad's old contacts from the State Department and they so graciously patched me through to the Sudanese Ambassador. Then I got a communiquÃ© from Human Rights Watch with survivors of the Sudanese and Rwandese genocides and was willing to grant our cameras access into their facilities. Along with that I found the webmasters of SaveDarfur.org very cooperative should they be asked to give a hand with this project, as well as a reliable security agency that will provide us with private military contractors." Charlotte slapped her open palms on the cherry table and lent toward her comrades. "So what do you say? You up to the challenge of confronting all-American apathy and get something done?"
Das Petey merely shifted his eyes to his left where the company's pinch-faced accountant Floyd Wellington sat. Floyd crooked a brow and Das Petey turned to Leticia with a tired grin.
"Tish?" Charlotte's hands dropped to hers sides like lead weights. Dismissed, just like that. Leticia smiled sadly at her friend and Charlotte dumped herself back into her leather seat.
"I was in line at D'Agostino's /a couple of weeks ago when I saw an interesting headline on /The Globe/." /The Globe/, Charlotte inwardly groaned. It was one of the nefarious supermarket tabloid rags that made /The Enquirer look like Time/. She tilted her body propping her head on her fist watching Leticia pull out the article from a folder. She smacked the pages on the table. "'BLOODATH IN PARADISE: BUXTON HALL MYSTERY FINALLY SOLVED?' Six hours up the coast from here is this backwater town called Eden. In 1957, five seniors from the local high school were rumored to have been lured to this deserted manor, Buxton Hall, and gruesomely murdered. The sheriff at the time had to be a blood relation of Barney Fief since no perp had been caught. The 'theories' put forth by residents are satanic cult worship, a psychotic drifter, a disgruntled ex-beau of one of the girls, or possibly somebody's mother snapped. This would be perfect/ for May sweeps. It would be an automatic draw for the Sci-Fi Channel/- you've seen the numbers they get for the weekend afternoon crap lineup. And I think we could charm /HBO what with The Sopranos /on its last season, /Deadwood /and /Entourage on hiatus and the cremation of /Carnivale/."
Das Petey brought down a meaty hand loudly on the table and rose from his seat. "I like it. Get the necessary paperwork then talk to Floyd. Meeting adjourned." After the boss and his lapdog exited, the room became a hubbub of where to get lunch. Charlotte, unnoticed, stayed behind. She waited three minutes and the door creaked open with Leticia padding in cautiously on the toes of her Nine West pumps. Charlotte rapped her knuckles on the wood sounding like a metronome.
"Do you still hate me for accidentally dropping that charm bracelet into the sewer?" Charlotte's hackles rose.
"You know that Rod Jansen gave me that ugly-ass thing. The dumbfuck probably filched it from his dead grandma's jewelry box! The only reason why I wore it was because he was captain of the track team!" Charlotte continued to rap her fist. It was getting louder. "Honey I promise you, anyone who wouldn't want to go on a three month jaunt into the heart of darkness would be fucking out of their minds." Leticia sat down in the seat that Das Petey occupied earlier. "But Charlie, you can't put your house back up for collateral." Leticia shook her head sadly. "Not this time around."
"I could take out a mortgage on it!" Charlotte was being difficult and knew it.
"Your first divorce hearing begins in two months. The dickhead's lawyer will find out about it, and it won't make your case look good. Think Charlotte... take it from an expert." She and Leticia had known each other since sophomore year in El Camino Real which was why she was allowing her to tell her off. In the end Leticia was right; three ex-husbands would make you an expert. So instead of going on safari Charlotte resigned herself to going to /Hee-Haw/.
By the time Charlotte's out of body experience ended she was aware of Violet's gushing, not caring a whit about talking to herself.
"And when they said you were coming to do a movie about the murder house, I didn't believe it until Betsy Carlyle showed me a copy of one of the petitions sent to her office." Charlotte could only guess that this Betsy Carlyle was on the town council. "So when do you start filming?"
"Um... er..." Charlotte's brain was still out of tune when it registered Violet's question being directed at her. "That is... when our truck comes in. But U.F.O. goes by the book so you don't see us as some crazed city slickers running around town with a camera." Violet waved Charlotte worries away as though she were one of the grandkids scared of gators in the basement.
"Pshaw! The paperwork's been filed honey. Presenting it to town council is just a formality." Violet tossed her head left to right searching for hidden eavesdroppers. "Makes the bastards among us feel important." She picked up the black receiver from the phone's cradle. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll send you right over to the mayor." Violet punched the speed dial button and was quiet momentarily. "Hi! It's me. The murder house movie people are here... just as well you knew something already. The director wants to see you over something or other, is that okay? Great." Violet hung up. Charlotte was a bit taken aback by Violet's casualness with the most powerful man in town. Then again this was Eden, and not L.A. "The mayor will see you."
"Thank you so much." Just as Charlotte turned to leave she was called back.
"Where are you going honey?" Violet asked.
Charlotte pointed to the ceiling. "To the mayor's office?" Violet laughed warmheartedly at Charlotte's ignorance though she truly didn't want her to feel bad. It would just worsen her so obvious complex.
"You won't find him up there, dear."
"I- I'm sorry?"
"The mayor has office hours from eight to twelve." Violet explained. "The town council convenes only on Fridays. Any more than that would cut into everyone's work schedule. Eden is as far from L.A. as you can get, dear." Charlotte's shoulders drooped and her mouth twisted into a lopsided line.
"So where could I find him?"
"Bookstore on Yale Drive. You can't miss it."
/The Bookshelf/, Violet meant it when she said Charlotte wouldn't miss it. It was a jaunty two-storey building with a Wild West general store faÃ§ade. On the wall was a flight of stairs that led to the apartment up top where the owner obviously lived. There was an oversized damp beach towel with the print of a crashing wave draped over the balcony's railing and a white Chinese paper lantern dangling from the ceiling. Charlotte mounted the downstairs porch and clasped the gold door handle. The blue and white sign hanging on the inside of the door's window read 'Please Come In.'
/How nice/, Charlotte thought and went in.
The brass bell hanging from the curlicue hook on the doorframe jingled merrily signaling Charlotte's entrance. She gave the shop a quick once-over and liked what she saw. While there was hardly any room for a Mr. Coffee let alone a Starbuck's/, there were a few scattered comfy chairs and a fireplace. Books were shelved on the walls, in the middle of the room, on tables and stacked on the floor. Charlotte spun around to shut the door without slamming it and was smacked in the face with the Sexuality/Relationships section. /The Joy of Sex/, /A 1,001 Nights/, /The Tantric Sex Guide/, /The Kama Sutra and other such titles seemed to laugh at her. Her throat felt cottony as though she swallowed a fistful of salt and her palms were wet.
Sidling from his tiny rear office carrying a freshly delivered load of algebra II college textbooks was the owner. He hefted the books onto the counter beside the register. Reaching into the shelf underneath he pulled out a big card with red and yellow firework patterns and scribbled in black permanent marker, 'Bring your syllabus and get an extra 25% off!' He was about to begin the hunt for the tape when he saw Charlotte painfully transfixed by the sex books. In turn he was transfixed by her. Her black and white polka dot panel skirt gave him an exceptional view of her long legs and flared hips and ass. Her dressy white tank top had a scoop neckline and she did have the tits for it. Charlotte's bright red hair was pulled up in a ponytail, looking sort of messy. It suited her.
"Can I help you?" Charlotte's immediate reaction to the male voice was flinging her purse into the air. The owner pushed away from the counter and caught it; there were those days where he was glad to have been thrust into pee-wee baseball. Charlotte folded her hands over her mouth, shamed at what happened.
"Oh my God! Did I hurt you?"
"I don't think so," He said. He approached Charlotte and held her purse out. "I'll give this back on the grounds that it will not be used as a weapon."
"I'm so sorry!" Charlotte whined.
"That's okay." The owner laughed in spite of himself. Gathering himself he asked, "Is there anything you're looking for in particular?" Charlotte's brow furrowed quizzically before she looked back at the shelf she was so enrapt with. She flushed and took two steps to the left.
"Oh no!" She laughed nervously. "Don't be silly..." The owner skillfully camouflaged his chortle with a cough. "Um, I assume this is your bookstore?" The owner shoved his hands like a kid into his jeans pockets and traced his dark blue eyes lovingly around his shop.
"Oh good." Charlotte unzipped her purse and drew out yet another business card. "I'm Charlotte Stratemeyer and I'm from United Film Organization Pictures."
"The murder house movie people right?" He asked. Charlotte unconsciously tapped a heel into the wooden floor a little too hard. This was painful as it is without the company seeming like a traveling circus.
"Yes, we're hoping to film an in-depth documentary in your town."
"U.F.O. Pictures," the owner flashed a million-watt smile at her. "I like that name. I'm Mike by the way."
"Hello Mike." Charlotte gripped his larger hand skimming over fine callus pads. The stylish Gap pinstriped white shirt he wore had the sleeves rolled to the elbows over a T-shirt. The veins on his forearms bulged like whipcords from the three-day a week weight training he did. The T-shirt clung to his pectorals; she caught the fragrance of /Bounce/. He was a touch over six feet tall and his flaxen hair was shaggy looking as if he were growing it out.
"So, planning on interviewing me?" Mike walked back to the stack of algebra textbooks with Charlotte in tow. She saw the faint rosy hue on his otherwise perfect tan on his chest.
"Actually, the admin at Town Hall told me that this was the mayor's hangout. So is he here," Charlotte bent forward straining to see into Mike's rear office, "or did he go home?"
And without missing a beat as Mike affixed the little sign he made onto the register he said, "That's why I asked if you were interviewing me." Charlotte blinked about a thousand times and Mike caught the cutest worry line crease between her eyebrows.
"I- I'm sorry... but I'm looking for the mayor."
"And now you found him. So what can I help you with?" Mike grinned. Charlotte had to refrain from saying anything further before she humiliated herself again. Incense welled up her esophagus and she tightened her fists reflexively. But she took a deep, resolute breath knowing that this was just another stage in her life, post-divorce. Charlotte had to stop thinking of herself as a married woman. She also had to stop thinking that all men were scumbags. Besides, Mike was cute in that surfer dude sort of way, and the line he laid on could be considered charming. Charlotte began laughing as she had no more tears left to cry. Her laughter was so infectious that Mike laughed right along with her.
"What are we laughing at?" He asked.
"You!" Charlotte guffawed and slapped her thigh. "The mayor!"
"But I am!" Mike was positively giddy. Their hysterics gradually subsided and Charlotte wiped away a tear.
"No seriously... Now where could I find the mayor?"
"I told you, I'm right here." Mike folded his arms and shrugged his football player shoulders.
/Now you're in trouble. /Charlotte admired persistence but this was the first time she was on the receiving end of it. That was Leticia's territory. "Okay, can I level with you?" Charlotte asked flatly.
"Absolutely." Mike said.
"I just got divorced." She blurted, he winced feeling guilty. "My husband was cheating on me with some Malibu Beach bunny-brained intern at his firm. I admit I'm no /Playmate of the Year/, but to pay the taxes for a house in Van Nuys- which the asshole gave to me willingly- kind of required two incomes." She spread her arms for effect then clasped her hands. "So right now I'm pretty vulnerable." Judging by Mike's remorseful look Charlotte knew it was time to make her exit. "Well I think I've done enough damage for one day. So I'll just go."
"No, wait!" Mike tried to stop her but Charlotte fled.
Violet returned from the rear office with a slew of files that needed collating and piled them atop her desk. The most recent file for that year was the contract bid for Grant High's construction work. She filed that under 'Education.' She shook her head at the next one, 'Cooper's Dairy Project.' The defunct Cooper's Dairy Farm was Eden's largest piece of real estate, but the ownership was in limbo since its foreclosure more than 20 years ago. There have been no takers since and it has thrown council meetings into upheaval as to what to do with it.
Violet was shaken from her reverie by the sound of stomping feet and murmured obscenities. To her surprise, Charlotte barged in.
"What does he think, I'm some idiot?!" She shouted to the room. "Y'know," she addressed Violet, "my friends told me to expect some anger after the divorce... But they didn't bet on full-blown homicidal maniac rage!" Violet continued to stare wide-eyed at Charlotte. "My ex didn't even bother lying to me anymore when I finally confronted him about the little whore!" Violet took the opportunity to warm up the kettle in the office's kitchenette as Charlotte ranted. "And now some Twinkie skater boy has the balls to try and feed me that he's mayor!" Violet came from around the bend of her desk with a cup of Earl Grey for Charlotte when she did a double take at Mike's mention.
"Excuse me dear, what was the problem at the bookstore?" Violet set down the mug on the desktop.
"The pretty boy owner tried to push himself off as mayor! Give me a break..."
"Is it so very inconceivable to have a... young mayor?" Violet asked in a neutral tone.
"Violet, I'm 33 years old. He looked about my age. I was 27 by the time I got this job with U.F.O. And I was only brought on because it was this hole-in-the-wall company that turned out/ Maniac Cop /meets /Emmanuelle /meets /The Evil Dead /bargain bin at /Wal-Mart /fodder. Do you know how many typing pools I sweat out? I was completing my master's thesis working for four different temp agencies for Christ's sake! Meanwhile some surfer dude has his own business and claims to be an elected official!" Her anger spent, Charlotte fell onto one of the couches sounding more jealous than frustrated. Violet handed her the tea. "And on top of that I threw my purse at him." Charlotte grumbled into the mug.
"You did what?" Violet laughed.
"It was an accident!" Charlotte pleaded. "I was looking at the- he surprised me, and I threw it into the air. He caught it." Violet having her chin propped in her hand shook her head, fingers pressed to her lips.
"Well I do suppose Mike does come off as facetious."
"That he does," Charlotte snorted taking a sip.
"But it's that facetiousness that brings his intensity balance." Violet remarked. "I suppose that's the secret of my son's success to winning the election." Charlotte reared up from her seat and spat the tea getting a distance of three feet across the room.