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delighted to have accepted your invitation honoring Pat and Peter Lawford.’”

Newcomb was hunkered over her pad like a slave at an oar, pencil tip scratching paper.

“‘Unfortunately, I am involved in a freedom ride protesting the loss of minority rights belonging to the few remaining…’” She looked toward the open beams for guidance. “‘… earthbound stars.’”

“Signed, respectfully…?”

“Keep writing. ‘After all, all we demanded was our right to twinkle.’” She blurted a “Ha!” and rocked on her bottom, then had a sip of champagne.

Then she remembered me. “Nate, would you like something? There’s plenty of Dom Perignon.”

“I bet there is. No.”

“I can get you some other drink, what is it you like? Rum and Coke?”

“I switched to vodka gimlets.”

“Ooh, how sixties of you. I can have Mrs. Murray fetch you-”

“Is that your housekeeper or-”

“She’s more a companion. Social secretary.”

She’d have made a better companion or social secretary for Vincent Price than Marilyn Monroe. But whatever she was, I hadn’t even seen her go. Mrs. Murray had vanished without even a puff of smoke.

“No, thanks,” I said. “You girls finish up your work.”

Marilyn shrugged exaggeratedly, then extended both hands. “That’s all! We’re done!” She clapped once, got to her bare feet. “Come on, Pat-don’t be so glum. We’re making strides.”

Newcomb smiled, nodded wearily. “We are. I’m really happy to see you in such good spirits.”

“You have to be in good spirits to fight back. And that’s what we’re doing. And after this good news-”

I interrupted: “What good news?”

She turned her big blue eyes on me, very wide. “I guess it hasn’t hit the papers yet. Might be on the radio and TV.”

“What might be on the radio and TV?”

“Dean. Dean Martin? My costar?”

“Yeah, guy who used to work with Jerry Lewis. What about him?”

Her smile was fetchingly smug. “Those smart-asses at Fox didn’t think to look at his contract-he has costar approval! When Kim and Shirley turned them down, they talked Lee Remick into taking my part… Lee Remick? I mean, she’s cute, but… Anyway, Dean quit the picture.”

Newcomb was smiling. “That’s right. He said, ‘No Marilyn, no Martin.’”

“He’s a sweetie,” Marilyn said, and her eyes got misty. “I mean, it’s touching, isn’t it? That kind of loyalty? In this town?”

She swallowed, and Newcomb went over and gave her a hug, then moved away, saying, “I better get out of here. I have a hundred and five telegrams to post.”

Marilyn’s smile was a beacon in the little room. “Yes, you do! Now scoot!”

Newcomb scooted, though she did take time to cast me a glance and a smile. I did her the same.

As the door closed, Marilyn came over to me and said, “Your turn,” and gave me a big hug. She smelled great-Chanel No. 5, as usual, but probably not directly applied; she always dumped a bottle in her bath.

“I have to say you look great,” I said.

She spread her hands in a presentational manner. “Not bad for thirty-six, huh? You think I’ve lost too much weight?”

“I like you any way I can get you. But this, this I think is your ideal fighting weight.”

“Fighting weight is right,” she said, and made two fists and held them up muscleman style. “You have no idea what these bastards are trying to do to me.”

“What can I do to help?”

She gave me another hug, then a sweet, short kiss that hovered somewhere between brother and lover. “First let me give you the dime tour. Don’t you just love this place? It’s my safe haven, it really is.”

So she took me by the hand like Mommy leading her favorite little boy, chattering on about how it was the first home she’d ever owned and how she cried when she signed the papers, pausing when we reached a point of interest.

To the left of the living room was a small dining room that led to a bright, cheery, wicker-filled sunroom at right and a modern kitchen at left, the latter a real point of pride to her.

“Have I ever cooked for you? You would love my pasta. And my guacamole? To die for. Remember when I was Jewish for a while?”

“Sure,” I said. When she was married to Miller.

“Well, I can still whip up a mean borscht, and my matzoh ball soup is incredible. You just won’t believe it. You are Jewish, aren’t you?”

We’d never talked about it.

“Yes and no,” I said. “My mom was Irish Catholic and died when I was a brat.”

“How sad…”

“My pop was a nonpracticing Jew, and the only part of it I have any interest in is that food you were talking about.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish out here.”

“Done wonders for Sammy Davis, Jr.”

She laughed a little too hard at that. She seemed a tad high, but I’d been around enough pill-poppers to recognize the signs, and these weren’t those. This was a combo of champagne and renewed self-confidence, and nice to see. Fun to see.

Back through the living room, she led me to the master bedroom, which had a witch’s hat fireplace (maybe this was where Mrs. Murray disappeared to) and blackout curtains, with a portable phonograph on the floor, Sinatra albums scattered nearby. The double bed with its white satin comforter took up much of the space in the modest- sized room.

“Everything looks a little naked,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff I bought in Mexico that hasn’t come yet.”

Then she caught me looking at the pills on her small round-topped nightstand-dozens of little bottles crowding a tiny lamp with a couple of red-covered spiral pads stuffed between.

“Those are all empty, Nate, except for one bottle of sleeping pills-go ahead, look.”

“No, I believe you. It’s your business, anyway.”

She put her arms around my waist from behind, pulling me near her with a nice familiarity. “I’m clean. I’m not taking anything except a little chloral hydrate, if I’m having sleep trouble.”

“Well, that’s great.”

“I have a fantastic shrink right now, and he’s done wonders. And, anyway, I never have any trouble kicking.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m a freak of nature. All I have to do is decide I don’t need to take anything anymore. Cold turkey is just a deli sandwich, far as I know.”

I didn’t know whether to buy this or not, but didn’t say anything. I turned to face her, still close enough to whiff the Chanel.

She said, “My biggest problem right now is sinusitis, and all I’m taking, cross my heart, is liver extract. You know, every day I called in sick, Fox’s own doctor came and looked at me, and said I wasn’t fit for duty. I’ve been fighting cold and fever and ten kinds of God knows what since last spring.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t stand so close to me, then. Why don’t you stop in an hour or so.”

She laughed at that, gave me another quick kiss, and took my hand again, back in tour-guide mode.

“None of the rooms are big,” she was saying, “but they’re nice. Wait till you see it fully decorated.”

Another bathroom joined the other two bedrooms, across the hall. One she described as the guest bedroom, outfitted with walnut cabinets and a twin bed, but the other was designated her “fitting room,” with a large wardrobe cabinet (“Not much closet space-Depression-era home, y’know”) and three floor-length mirrors hinged together into one big viewing space.

The fitting room had another function-two telephones, one pink, one white, perched on a walnut table near

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