By that September night in 1955, the Garden was in its death throes. Dirt and rust streaked the white stucco walls, the furniture in the bungalows was shabby, and just the day before, a dead mouse had been found floating in the pool. Ironically, it still cost the same to rent a bungalow there as it did at the Beverly Hills, although within four years the place would fall to the wrecker’s ball. But on that September night, the Garden was still the Garden, and some of the stars were still around.

Billy opened the car door for Belinda. “Come on, babe. The party will cheer you up. A few of the guys from Paramount will be here. I’ll introduce you around. You’ll knock ’em dead yet.”

Her hands curled into fists on the paper in her lap. “Leave me alone for a little bit, will you? I’ll meet you inside.”

“Okay, babe.” His footsteps crunched in the gravel as he moved away. She wadded the memo into a ball, then sagged against the seat. What if it was true that she had no talent? When she’d dreamed about being a movie star she’d never thought much about acting. She’d imagined they would give her lessons or something.

A car pulled into the space next to her with the radio blaring. The couple didn’t bother to turn off the engine before they started necking. High school kids, hiding out in the parking lot at the Garden of Allah.

And then the music was over and the news came on.

It was the first story.

The announcer repeated the information calmly, as if it were an everyday occurrence, as if it were not an outrage, not the end of Belinda’s life, not the end of everything. She screamed, a terrible, long cry, all the more horrible because it happened inside her head.

James Dean was dead.

She threw open the door and stumbled across the parking lot, not looking where she was going, not caring. She tore through the shrubbery and down one of the paths, trying to outrace her suffocating anguish. She ran past the swimming pool shaped like Azimova’s Black Sea, past a big oak at the end of the pool that held a telephone box with a sign, FOR CENTRAL CASTING ONLY. She ran until she came to a long stucco wall beside one of the bungalows. In the dark, she sagged against the wall and cried over the death of her dreams.

Jimmy was from Indiana, just like her, and now he was dead. Killed on the road to Salinas driving a silver Porsche he called “Little Bastard.” He’d said anything was possible. A man was his own man; a woman her own woman. Without Jimmy, her dreams seemed childish and impossible.

“My dear, you’re making a frightful noise. Would you mind terribly taking your troubles somewhere else? Unless, of course, you’re very pretty, in which case you’re invited to come through the gate and have a drink with me.” The voice, deep and faintly British, drifted over the top of the stucco wall.

Belinda’s head jerked up. “Who are you?”

“An interesting question.” There was a short silence, punctuated by the distant sound of music from the party. “Let’s say I’m a man of contradictions. A lover of adventure, women, and vodka. Not necessarily in that order.”

There was something about the voice…Belinda wiped her tears with the back of her hand and looked for the gate. When she found it, she stepped inside, drawn by his voice and the possibility of distraction from her awful pain.

A pool of pale yellow light washed the center of the patio. She gazed toward the dark figure of a man sitting in the night shadows just beyond. “James Dean is dead,” she said. “He was killed in a car accident.”

“Dean?” Ice cubes clicked against his glass. “Ah, yes. Undisciplined sort of chap. Always raising a ruckus. Not that I hold that against him, mind you. I’ve raised a few in my time. Sit down, my dear, and have a drink.”

She didn’t move. “I loved him.”

“Love, I’ve discovered, is a transient emotion best satisfied by a good fuck.”

She was deeply shocked. No one had ever used that word in her presence, and she said the first thing that came to mind. “I didn’t even get that.”

He laughed. “Now there, my dear, is the real tragedy.” She heard a soft creak, and then he stood and walked toward her. He was tall, probably over six feet, a little thick around the middle, with wide shoulders and a straight carriage. He wore white duck trousers and a pale yellow shirt filled in at the neck with a loosely knotted ascot. She took in the small details-a pair of canvas deck shoes, a watch with a leather band, a webbed khaki belt. And then her gaze lifted, and she found herself looking into the world-weary eyes of Errol Flynn.

Chapter 3

By the time Belinda met him, Flynn had gone through three wives and several fortunes. He was forty-six but looked twenty years older. The famous mustache was grizzled; the handsome face, with its chiseled bones and sculpted nose, had grown jowly and lined from vodka, drugs, and cynicism. His face formed a road map of his life. In four years he’d be dead, falling victim to a long list of ailments that would have killed other men much earlier. But most men weren’t Flynn.

He’d swashbuckled his way across the screen for two decades, fighting villains, winning wars, and saving damsels. Captain Blood, Robin Hood, Don Juan-Flynn had played them all. Sometimes, if the mood struck him, he’d even played them well.

Long before he came to Hollywood, Errol Flynn had taken part in adventures every bit as dangerous as those he’d played on screen. He’d been an explorer, a sailor, a gold prospector. He’d traded for slaves in New Guinea. The scar on his heel came from a shot fired by a party of headhunters, another scar on his abdomen from a scuffle with a rickshaw driver in India. At least that’s what he said. With Flynn, no one could ever be sure.

Always, there were women. They couldn’t get enough of him, and Flynn felt the same about them. He especially liked them young. The younger the better. Looking into a fresh young face and plunging into a fresh young body gave him the illusion of recovering his lost innocence. It also brought him trouble.

In 1942 he was put on trial for statutory rape. Although the girls were willing, California law made it illegal to have sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of eighteen, willing or not. Nine women served on the jury, however, and Flynn was acquitted. Afterward, he perpetuated the myth of his prowess even as he hated becoming a phallic joke.

The trial didn’t end his fascination with young girls, and even though he was forty-six, alcoholic, and dissipated, they still found him irresistible.

“Come over here, my dear, and sit next to me.”

He touched her arm, and Belinda felt as if the earth had spun out of its orbit. She sank into the chair he led her to just as she thought her knees would give out. Her hand shook as she took the glass he pressed toward her. This wasn’t a dream. It was real. She and Errol Flynn were alone together. He smiled at her, a crooked smile, roguish, urbane, the famous left eyebrow slightly higher than the right. “How old are you, my dear?”

It took her a moment to find her voice. “Eighteen.”

“Eighteen…” His left eyebrow rose a little higher. “I don’t suppose-no, of course not.” He tugged on the corner of his mustache and gave her an apologetic chuckle, both charming and disarming. “You wouldn’t happen to have your birth certificate on you?”

“My birth certificate?” She looked at him quizzically. Such a strange question. And then the old stories about the trial clicked into place, and she laughed. “I’m not carrying my birth certificate, Mr. Flynn, but I truly am eighteen.” Her laughter turned daringly mischievous. “Would it make any difference if I weren’t?”

His response was vintage Flynn. “Of course not.”

For the next hour they observed the amenities. Flynn told her a story about John Barrymore and gossiped about his leading ladies. She confided what had happened with Paramount. He asked her to call him “Baron,” his favorite nickname. She said she would, but she called him “Mr. Flynn” just the same. At the end of the hour, he took her by the hand and led her inside.

With some embarrassment, she asked to use the bathroom. After she had flushed the toilet and washed her hands, she sneaked a peak at the contents of his medicine cabinet. Errol Flynn’s toothbrush. Errol Flynn’s razor. Her eyes skipped over the pills and Errol Flynn’s suppositories. When she shut the cabinet, her face in the mirror was flushed and her eyes bright with excitement. She’d wandered into the presence of a great star.

He waited for her in the bedroom. He wore a burgundy-colored dressing gown and smoked a cigarette in a short amber holder. A fresh bottle of vodka sat on the table at his side. She smiled tentatively, not sure what she

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