Vanity kills. Nobody knows that better than I do. I could never have seen what my attitude eventually brought me to until that fateful mid-August day when I came back to town. Town was actually what is now slum-ridden south central L.A. where rent was cheap and coffeehouses started to blossom like mushrooms then as they started doing now. The Yellow Door was a pretty happening place actually, even though you'd never know it from the outside... Patrons made their way to it through a thoroughly ugly and unappealing alley. Made the place cheap to lease and assured that only the hip, the adventurous, or those looking to score good smack made the trip.
Now, by the standards of the time, I was pinup gorgeous, tall and well-defined and proportionate. My hair is naturally curly and platinum blonde, shoulder length normally but I had it in this very special weave that made it look like a short pompadour. I wore a french style horizontal striped black and white blouse, black capri pants high on the waistline. My waist was cinched with a cummerbund with a jeweled clasp. My chief accessory was a bright yellow silk scarf with black striping around my neck which I always paid attention to to make it lay right. I also had a mole on my left cheek. I always come in quiet before I announce myself in my usual bold as brass way.... I find the one whom I think is the coolest, who will make me look good just by sitting next to him or her... and Maxwell Brock fit the bill.
"MAXWELL! Yoohoo...!!" I smiled a huge, cunning smile and waved my arms grandly as I sauntered over through the smoke filled room.
I spoke as if he were an old friend but he reacted by saying, "Clear the table! Bring a bowl, I may be sick!" and put his hands to his forehead.
Two of the local barflies whom I could never stand were sitting beside Maxwell, chiming in and saying, "It's Alice the Awful...come to spread cheer and cholera!"
How rude! The only reason they were here was to score smack or weed. They were crude and obnoxious and had nowhere else to hang apparently. So, we tolerated them until they would one day get bored and find somewhere else to perch.
I pirouetted around Maxwell and the locals saying, "Look at my suntan everybody!"
"Do we have to?" one of the barflies complained.
Well, of course they did! But I know better than to flaunt it in their faces for too long. Have to show some dignity in the midst of these unwashed.
"Where have you been, Alice?" asks Carla, the hostess of the establishment. Goody two shoes but a hell of a promoter. I sometimes wish we could have been friends.
“Oh, I went to Big Sur to look for Henry Miller." Always loved to drop names.
"You didn't find him, I hope?" asks Maxwell.
"No..." I replied, half insulted, half irked, "He's in Europe."
"Good!" Maxwell retorted, looking very relieved.
Now Maxwell Brock is the one I focused on because he has talent and a knack for spotting it. He actually helped me get one of my first gigs but, in retrospect, his kindness just may have been to get me out of his hair. His prodigious poetry slamming has carried his rep all the way up to Haight-Ashbury. He's our own little Ginsberg, or should I say big one. He's a tall, bearded imposing man who dresses simply but impeccably, like a college professor would. I never understood why he wouldn't take me seriously. Nevertheless, I sit down right next to him so I can face him. It is only when I settle down that I realize I may have made a big mistake...
I wonder why I didn't notice before, but that half-wit busboy Walter Paisley was sitting right next to me at the table. He wasn't groveling as he should have been doing, hanging on my every silent moment as I waited to order coffee. He was dressed rather trendy in a way I could never have imagined him. He had this bright pinstripe coat and clashing Paisley scarf round his neck, along with a beret and a Zen stick tucked into his arm like a riding crop. It was an unsettling affront to me.
"Why is the busboy sitting here?" I protest.
He immediately reacted indignantly, "I'm NOT the busboy, anymore!"
"That's right," Maxwell explained, rather proudly, "Walter has become a sculptor!"
Very interesting... but it had to be a joke... so I thought I would play along. I went into a sales pitch, smiling enticingly, preening a bit at this laughable nerd by tugging flirtingly at my neckerchief...
"Oh, really?! I'm a model you know! I only charge $25 and hour... would you like to do me?"
He regarded me, not with interest, but with disdain and a bit of anger. Nevertheless, he replied, "I just might..."
"Never mind that!" shouted Leonard, the owner, who seems to be more insistent than usual. "Walter is going to try his hand at freeform!"
"There you go again!" Maxwell rebuked, "I may just take my business to the Sorrel Sewer!"
Oh, how I love the sound of simmering drama! Things were heating up and I smiled slyly as it escalated.
But Carla interjected, "As a matter of fact, I was just about to suggest to Walter that he try a female figure, as a change from the violent death theme.... you really should, Walter." I noticed the buffoon hanging on to Carla's every word. She smiled at him, adding, "If you like, I'll be your model for free!"
Grrr!!.. I hate competition from the likes of her even if this is a joke!
I noticed Walter retreat and wince at that suggestion... "I couldn't! Not YOU!"
The barflies interrupted with their two cents, stuttering lasciviously aided by either too much espresso or weed or both...
"Oh, man if you are going to be an artist you have to do nudes, nudes, nudes!"
"Right man, ain't no man an artist unless he does... nuu...nuu... nudes!"
They cackled like schoolboys finding their Dad's issue of PLAYBOY. Maxwell rolled his eyes and at that point probably found the presence of them and I intolerable, "Will you get these people out before we all end up in night court?"
The joke was wearing thin and I was itching to call their bluff, “Oh, I'm sick of hearing about sculpture... nobody know how to do that anymore, much less the busboy from the Yellow Door!"
Walter got more outraged, "Who do you think you are talking to?!"
"Don't shout at me!" I spat right back to his face.
"I don't like you!" He declared gruffly.
I chuckled and turned my head to Maxwell, "Nobody asked for your opinion, Walter! You're just a simple little farmboy and the rest of us are all sophisticated Beatniks!"
The barflies both stand up as if hit by a shock... "That did it!"
Maxwell was both amazed and appalled at the brazenness of my insult, which I meant every word of... but he didn't seem to mind. It gave me hope to see that.
"I'm out of here, man" His chum agreed, "Yea, I gotta go make me some air..."
Now if I was a better judge of character I would have seen that although Maxwell seemed relieved to see them go, he was more disappointed that they didn't get into a fight with me.
Walter is very upset... "Look!! You made them LEAVE!"
"Well, what did I do?" I wondered, oblivious to what the fuss is about. They were such punks.
"The first beneficial service of your benighted life!" answers Maxwell, "It proves we are all good for something."
I bristled at those words, "You mean to say that this busboy is better than I?!"
He smiled and nodded, saying, "Yes"
The audacity! I had to call the bluff right then and there.
"I think this whole thing about him being a sculptor is just a big put-on for my benefit!"
"That's not true! I am a sculptor," the damned fake insisted.
Ha, right. "Well then, prove it!" I grabbed his piece of uneaten cheesecake and presented it to him. "Make something out of this!"
With his open hand he smeared it uniformly over mine, covered it in sticky tan goo....
"There! "HAND!" he titled it.
Maxwell laughed and clapped his hands.
I'm pissed off now. “That isn't a real hand! If you were a sculptor, you'd create something for ME!"
"A harpoon would be real nice!" Maxwell heartily suggested.
Walter cleaned his hands, picked up his swagger stick and left in a hough, "I'm going home!" The mood in the place visibly dimmed as he stormed out.... Maxwell looked upset to see him go. Carla looked at me with a cordial glass raised as if to make a toast, "Alice.... you're obnoxious!"
"But he's such an idiot!" I countered but everyone seemed to be on Paisley's side.
Nothing much else to do now... I've crashed the party... but there is no way I am going to give them the satisfaction. What could these people see in that nerd I wondered. I slowly left the table and hung around the opposite end and encountered his work. I saw this life-size cat in a very strange pose and even stranger title DEAD CAT. It was morbid but you couldn't fault the work for it strangeness. There was definitely something about it... I heard later on through the coffeehouse grapevine that it was rumored to be selling for $500.
I also heard about another work of Walter's, a life-size grotesque that might run as high as $3,000. Leonard is being very hush-hush and reluctant to discuss this artist he discovered.... It intrigues me... if nothing else and I find that maybe this dimwit maybe is worth getting to know if only to advance my career.
Well, I abide my time, Maxwell and Leonard won't talk to me anymore and no one will approach or talk to me. Near closing, I gathered myself up and with as much dignity as I could, made ready to leave, avoiding the scowls of the waitresses as I headed for the door.
I lit up a cigarette and went out the alleyway, with the odd feeling I was being watched.
I got to my apartment and had just taken off my sweater (Southern California evenings can be chilly even in summer) when the knock on the door came.
I went to answer it, reflexively going into a polite yes as I opened it, before I realized it was him. Once I saw him standing nervous as a chihuahua at the door, I changed my tone.
"What do YOU want?"
"I wanted to apologize for being nasty to you tonight..." his voice shook a little.
I've heard this kind of simpering before and I handled it the only way I knew how.
"So? You've apologized! Good night!" I slammed the door in his face.
If I could have just seen the anger burning through his eyes and through that door at that instant, but I couldn't care less. Yet, I hear the knock again, this time louder and more insistent. I want to get outraged and in his face again, especially after humiliating me at the Yellow Door, but I keep a grip on myself. I have to show I am better than two-bit hustlers like this one. But I have to show strength. I open the door and let him have it diplomatically, "Listen, twerp! Why don't you leave me alone and let me go to bed?"
"I...I didn't finish talking to you...I decided to make that female figure after all..."
"Oh?" I smell the words of an offer coming and am all ears. I let my voice soften a bit and let him continue....
"...and I'd like you to pose for it."
I smiled wryly and reminded him, "Remember what I said about my price?"
He nodded and answered, "$25 an hour."
That's the music to my ears! “If you want to pay it, I don't mind posing. When do I start work?"
"Tonight..." he suggests haltingly.
"You mean right now?" He nodded...
Weird..I took a couple seconds to think... then again, I've had overnight gigs before... why should this one be any different...?
“Wait 'til I get my sweater."
I retrieve it and head out with him to his place. it's a seedy place near the Yellow Door... obviously necessary since he can't drive. it's a dump but then again, most of the scene could not afford to be clubbing unless their rent was cheap. Speaking of rent, mine was due soon and I could use every penny I could get. Now, $25/hour may not seem like much now but back in the late 1950's, that was damn good money. To put it in perspective, Betty Page, with whom I was actually acquainted with, was getting that much from her risqué photoshoots with Irving Klaw. I detested the man and considered his work to be glorified pornography and stag films. I never had any idea it would be so revolutionary for the glamour genre later. Perhaps I should have hung out with her and Bunny Yeager more... alas for the choices I made.
I followed him to the flat, feeling kind of spooked, like the shadows would come alive and jump out at me, but I just figured that was the espresso and cigarettes that had me jumpy. “I will feel more comfortable at his place". or so I thought.
As bizarre as it seemed, it made sense considering all the work I had done in the pasts for painters and photographers. This would be something new. Besides, he'll make a glorious sculpture of me and I'll get paid.
His pad was small, quaint even, and threadbare. There was a windowless alcove where the kitchen was that I automatically went to for privacy. For an efficiency, it's rather sparse but I noticed the large, draped object sitting over in the corner. That statue people talked about.... I can't see what it is and I don't bother to ask as there will be time to talk about that later. As a pro gig, I have to think of this guy's time.
My Mary Janes were already off my bare feet as I stood on the cold linoleum flooring. I uncinched my cummerbund and tugged at the waistline of of my blouse.
Walter has taken his jacket and scarf off and rolled up his sleeves... I saw a few tools around and the messiness of the floor indicated he had been rather busy with his artwork. The table creaked as he kneaded the clay on top of it.
A bit of the evening chill hit my belly as I pulled up and removed my blouse...
"You could use a little more heat in this place!" I suggested.
I moved over into a more private area of the alcove as I began to unhook my bra.
"It's bad for the clay," Walter replied. "You'll get used to it," he insisted.
"Yeah? Well, I'm almost ready" I told him as I slipped my stylish capri pants off.. I wore no underwear other than the bra, but figured this guy didn't need to know that.
I heard him say as some sounds of wood knocking on wood were made, "Sit in this chair and I'll pose you."
I emerged from the alcove carrying my clothes, his back directly to me as he continued working at the clay. I placed them on an antique loveseat and went to sit on the chair he provided.
It's old with the upholstery long worn off and I quickly examined it to make sure I wouldn't get splinters....
I sat down and its age was announced as the weight of my backside pressed into it.
"Kinda rickety" I complained mildly. He said nothing but kept his back to me. I felt uncomfortable but was determined to do this right.
I assumed a simple pinup style pose, arching my back, arms arms at the sides, fingers spread, and legs slightly crossing.
"How is this pose?" you ask.
He finally turned around hesitatingly to acknowledge me and look squarely at me.
"Oh, that's good... you're very good." He was obviously shy, a very odd trait for an artist who did the kind of work purported by the people at the Yellow Door. There was a brief pause before he spoke again that rekindled a mild suspicion.
"Stay like that," he insisted with a nervous smile.
I looked at his worktable and a question came to mind that I had to voice out loud, "This doesn't look like very much clay..."
"Oh," Walter assured, "It's enough." I took that at face value.
He maneuvered over to the loveseat where I placed my clothes and accessories. Picking up my silk neckerchief, he unfurled it with both hands and offered it to me.
"Here, put this around your neck."
I took it and tied it loosely around my neck and a kind of hall-hearted way. I didn't like him touching my stuff but I was in his domain and he obviously was finalizing his vision of what he wanted. I had no problem with that. I just wished at that point he would get to work.
He seemed unsatisfied with the look of how I arranged the kerchief and went behind me to adjust it.
I felt him close behind me, the warmth of his hands at the back of my neck as he fingered the silk.I felt it go snug at my throat. Then it suddenly went into a tight squeeze that shocked me out of my pose. My head swept back, my eyes closed, the scarf changing from being willowy silk to a narrow collar of steel that my desperately clutching fingers could not loosen.
My mouth wide open as I tried to scream, feeling it is was my only chance in the panic I was now in but no sound save a week croaking came out. It seemed an eternity of confused terror as I felt the throb of blood in my head suddenly go deafening, squeezing my face and eyeballs... my legs uncrossed and started to kick up and down at the legs of the chair... everything slipping away painfully...
At the moment of death, it is said, there is an undefinable clarity of what is going on in the universe. At this point, it was engulfing me like some monster in a drive-in movie. I felt my hands go limp at my throat and more so the raging anger in Walter's hands... every snide remark, every insult, every putdown he ever suffered, going into his hands and into me.
I don't know how, but I see what happened in the recent past as if it were a film going backward in time... what happened there in this room....
He tried to free the landlady's cat stuck in the wall... I see the hole now covered by a mirror... as if with x-ray vision... He accidentally skewered it with a knife and he was distraught.... I hear Maxwell's words echo through his mind... "
Let them die, and by their miserable deaths become the clay within his hands that he might form an ashtray or an ark.
Pray that you may be his diadem: gold, glory, paint, clay, that he might take you in his magic hands and wring from your marrow wonder.
I see him wake in the morning after sobbing over its corpse, look at the clay and then proceed to cover it with the clay to make it into a statue. The cat is long dead, he left the knife still in it and even covers that with clay to make it part of the sculpture.
Then I see a couple nights later when Lou Ramy comes to Walter's house... he reveals himself to be an undercover narc, just as I suspected, one of the reasons I avoided the Yellow Door but felt it safe this past night.
Walter had naively accepted some horse from Naolia the big Mexican waitress, clueless as always and Lou saw this and saw his chance to make a collar. Fool didn't even bother to tell his backup or his station chief. He threatened Walter with a gun.
Walter is panicking, practically wetting his pants as Lou interrogates and threatens him, thinking Walter is a major buyer. He doesn't notice Walter's skillet as the hysterical patsy brains him with it...The racket gets the attention of the landlady...Walter hides the body in the rafters as the landlady comes barging in demanding to know what the racket is going on. It would be almost comic if it wasn't so gory... Walter fasts talks the landlady out of his room, as Lou's corpse starts bleeding literally from the rafters...Walter starts cleaning up and crying.
"I'm sorry, Lou! If you had shot me, it would be my blood you were mopping up!"
"I can't help it if I lost control...(sobs) it's crazy, this is all crazy!"
"Make another cat, Walter... but I haven't got another cat..." and he looks at the clay and looks at Lou's body.
And I see Lou's body now in clay... the big statue in the corner...
You see Leonard the Yellow Door owner and Carla being shown it... "Walter!!," Carla gasps dreadfully, "I've never seen anything like it in all my life and I hope I never see anything like it again!"
"Me neither." Walters says.
"It's hideous, and it's eloquent. It expresses modern man in all his self-pity. Where did you ever find that in yourself, Walter?"
Leonard is there, and I can see in his face he knows the secret of the statues and is appalled but at the same time sees a way to make money.
I snap back to the present moment now, seemingly out of my body now... looking around in the room... in utter shock.
I see Walter with his hands still pulling out my scarf. My beautiful body has shifted diagonally a bit on the chair and he leaves it that way. He relaxes, the anger in his face subsiding a bit and then breathing a sigh as if very tired...
My body is stiffening up a bit, my prized tan goes a bit pale. My face locked in an eternal, silent scream...
He begins kneading up the clay getting it very, very soft. Some of it he dilutes with water to make it a bit like pudding. He begins to cover my body with it, leaving the scarf on. Funny thing about silk, it leaves no marks but he relaxes the scarf so my hyperextended neck looks normal. He undoes my hair a bit as he works through it. Such a sissy! He drapes over my snatch with a small bedsheet covered in clay. At least it drapes nicely. I don't know whether to be thankful for him preserving my dignity though. I watched helpless, but knowing I'm being turned into a sculpture like the cat, like Lou the Narc. End up just like them.
When he finished with me, even I could not help but be astonished at how he took my corpse and, to use those 50 cent words, euphemized my death into beautiful abstraction. So literal minded, he covered even the chair with the clay. They say the soul has weight and its absence in my body seemed to make it weightless as, after curing it as best he could, draped it with a sheet and hauled it off to unveil for Maxwell and his entourage at his house.
The look on their faces was electric as the sheet came slowly off, my feet impeccably graceful but rendered toeless with all the clay he put around them, like a store mannequin. My hands clutching at my throat and my desperate scream frozen forever but, as I said, rendered abstract from the panic of my death throes. They stood in awe, all of them, Carla, Maxwell, the barflies, a couple wait staff and some of the regulars, just having sat down to a sumptuous organic breakfast. Walter was still nervous even as the accolades came.
“Walter," the awestruck Carla exclaimed almost breathless, “I can't believe it!"
“I am honored to know this man!" Maxwell declared.
“Do you think it's nice?" Walter sheepishly asked.
“Hey, she is BEAUTIFUL!" One of the barflies said in genuine admiration.
“Do you think it's nicer than 'Murdered Man'?" Oh, please! He couldn't be that obvious?! Is he going to title me “Strangled Pinup"?!
“Oh, I don't know Walter. It's impossible to choose. They're both so great!" She was obviously overwhelmed and I found it stupefying that indeed, as appalling as this snuff art was, it did look good.
“Walter, I am deeply moved! To show my appreciation, I am going to give a party tonight at the Yellow Door, in your honor! And I shall compose a poem!"
Carla congratulates Walter with a kiss that practically causes him to faint with joy.
And it hits me harder than the grip around my throat last night that nobody is asking a thing about me... where was I to share in this moment...indeed where was "? I'm the victim of foul play, but I will not be missed. No missing person report will be filed by friends or family... not that I had either. Point of fact, it kills me to know this.
I sat in my rigor mortis of clay as Walter had his first exhibition. I was admired and appraised in escalating value.
“This could bring about a return to realism... a one man return."
“This man knows his anatomy..."
“I'd give $1500 for this..."
“After you read my review, it will probably cost you $5000!"
It was heartbreaking that I was receiving all attention I had yearned for in life but not like this. I wanted it to end.
Yet, Walter was not perfect, and the flaw in his work of me would reveal the dreadful secret of his art. Some of the clay buckled at my fingertip and flaked off, revealing the nail underneath. Carla noticed this as she admired me closely and explored further in confusion... feeling the clay coating the cloth of my kerchief flake away as she rubbed. Horror struck her face.
She tried to get away from the coffeehouse to alert someone but Walter intercepted her.
“Where are you going, Carla? What's the matter?"
“Walter... there's.... there's a BODY inside that statue!"
“Oh, that's Alice!," he replied quite straight faced and smiling as if there was nothing wrong in what he had done to me.
“It's alright," he assured her, “Maxwell says it's alright: “Let them become clay in his hands that he might mold them..."
Carla shudders in horror.
“Walter, you... you stay away from me!!"
“But don't you see, Carla," he explained, “I made them immortal. Don't you see, I could do the same for you!"
She screamed and fled. At almost the same time Lou's partner, working undercover, noticed the resemblance of the statue encasing his corpse was too uncanny. Another waitress also noticed my protruding fingertip. The cop wasted no time and broke a chair over Murdered Man.
It was pandemonium in the Yellow Door after that moment. Maxwell and the cop went with the barflies to pursue Walter. Half the women guests were fainting... Leonard was trying to keep himself from vomiting as he called the police. I later heard that, under questioning, he broke down and admitted his role in shielding Walter from detection.
As for Walter, it seemed his conscience got the upper hand. He imagined the ghosts of his victims taunting him apparently, like Furies sending the punishment of the gods. To escape, he appropriately covered himself with clay before hanging himself in his apartment. Funerals were held for Lou and a carpenter Walter beheaded after the party in his honor and whose head he made into a bust. Dead Cat was spirited off and would later turn up in a Ripley's Believe or Not! franchise.
As for myself, I had no one to claim me and none seemed to want to extricate me from my tomb of clay... I sat in an evidence locker until my stench became too much and then some medical students got a hold of me and set to work to preserve me in situ as they say. Technically, I was a mummy and, after their restoration work, an uncommonly beautiful one considering the circumstances of my death. I had entered into true crime history as Alice the Awful, the pivotal victim of Walter Paisley, the homicidal artist. Dead Cat and Murdered Man were the results of horrible accidents. I was that tipping point that made him decide to take things into his own hands, so to speak. I am assured an immortality I never would have dreamed of, much less wanted.
Nobody knows that better than I do. When all was said and done with the restoration, that is what the med students titled me.