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Golden Girl — Chapter One

Someone to Watch Over Me

Los Angeles, California, May 1, 1935

Once upon a time there was a girl called Callie.  She left her home in the dust bowl and travelled across the country to Los Angeles, California.  Except she wasn’t trying to get out of the dust like most folks.  She was trying to get out of a mess made up of magic, prophecy and the bad blood of a family with too much power and too many enemies.

“Callie LeRoux, where are you going like that?”

I froze on the steps and looked down at my landlady. Mrs. Constantine was big and broad, with black hair, dusky skin, a hook nose, raw hands, and the sharpest pair of ears known to man. She ran a boardinghouse for families and “respectable” single ladies, and puffed up when she got angry or proud. She also blocked the stairway I had been trying to sneak down.

“Sorry, Mrs. Constantine,” I said, trying not to squirm. “I’ve got to get to the streetcar. I’m going to see about a job today.”

“A job?” My landlady squinted around to see if I had my suitcase with me while I told this particular story. When she didn’t see me with anything more than a pair of high-heeled shoes from the mission store and the blue suit I’d been up all night stitching on so it mostly fit, she gave way.

“Well, you’d better get going, then, and you can drop the letters in the box on your way.”

“Yes, Mrs. Constantine.” I picked up the envelopes on the table by the hall and tucked them into my battered blue handbag, which almost matched the suit. The white gloves I’d bleached to within an inch of their lives stretched tight over my farm-girl fingers, and I’d have to remember to keep the palms turned in so nobody could see how worn out they were. I checked my hair in the mirror. I’d washed it the night before with lye water and lemon juice, like Mama had taught me, but that hadn’t made it any lighter or softer. So far, the French twist I’d spent half an hour before sunup wrestling into place was holding. Then I tried to find a way to hold my face that didn’t show the guilt so plain.

Because I wasn’t going out about any job. I was about to try to sneak into the biggest movie studio in the country.

“Now, just one minute, Miss Callie.”

I spun around on my crooked heel, and had to catch myself against the wall. Mrs. Constantine frowned again. She was coming up the hall carrying a white napkin bundle.

“You can’t go for a job without something to eat.” She pushed the bundle into my hand and then straightened my jacket shoulders. We both pretended she didn’t notice I’d stuffed my brassiere with tissues to help cover up the fact I was still only fourteen. “Don’t forget to drop off those letters. You want your people to know you’re safe, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” I scooted out the front door before she could say anything more about me or my family. My family was the reason I was sneaking into the movie studio in the first place.

You might have noticed that things with me are more complicated than for most girls. Actually, everything with me is more complicated than usual, even my name. For working days, I use the name Callie LeRoux. If I’m out passing for white, though, I use Callie McGinty. Then there’s Callie deMinuit. That’s the name I got from my fairy relations.

You see, along with being part black and part white, I’m part fairy (on my papa’s side) and part human (that’s Mama’s side). But the fairy half isn’t just any fairy. I was born a princess of the Unseelie court, and the heir to the Midnight Throne.

Believe me, that’s a lot to try to carry around with you, especially when you’re trying to eat a hot biscuit with apricot jam while walking down a street in the Los Angeles morning. It sure was a good biscuit, though.

When I stopped in front of the mailbox, I sorted through the letters and pulled out the one I’d written. I stuffed that one back into my purse. I wished I didn’t have to. I wished there really was someplace for that letter to go. I’d written it to keep Mrs. Constantine happy, and to help convince her about the story I’d told: that I was in Los Angeles looking for work to help out my family back in Kansas. She’d stood over my shoulder while I wrote out a happy letter telling how I’d made it to the city just fine, and how Mama didn’t need to worry about me because I’d found a clean, respectable boardinghouse and everybody was being so nice and friendly. I’d addressed it to the Imperial Hotel in Slow Run, Kansas, and borrowed a stamp. Mrs. Constantine beamed as she handed it over, sure she was doing her job helping to look out for me.

But there was nobody in the Imperial and there wouldn’t be until I found where the Seelie fairies had taken my mama, and made them give her back. Oh, and my papa too. I’d never met him, but I wasn’t going to leave him behind, even if it was only because I felt like he owed me and Mama a whole lot of explanations.

Problem was, I only had hints about where my parents might be hid. They weren’t very good hints either. I’d been told they were locked up in the golden mountains of the west, above the valley of smoke, in the house of St. Simon, where no saint has ever been.

And that was from somebody who was really trying to help. One of the biggest problems with fairies and magic folks is that they don’t talk in straight lines, even if they’re on your side, which, believe me, they mostly aren’t.

Fortunately, there aren’t too many places you can mean when you say “the golden mountains of the west.” That’s pretty much got to be California, so that was where we’d gotten ourselves to. “We” is me and Jack Holland. Jack’s my best friend. Without him I wouldn’t have made it ten feet from my own door, let alone all the way out to Los Angeles. On the other hand, without me he’d probably be on another chain gang somewhere, so I guess it mostly evens out.

Now, California’s a big place. It’s got a lot of hills and a lot of gold, but another thing I learned about fairies is that they like music and bright lights, pretty people and dancing, and all those other things that are beautiful about human beings. And where are the brightest lights, the best music, and the prettiest people in the whole world?

Hollywood, and the movie studios. Once me and Jack figured that out, we’d come up with a plan. Well, most of a plan. Part of a plan, anyway. We’d sneak into the studios, one after another, until we found any of the fairies who were hanging around there. Then we’d follow them back to their home, or at least to the gate they used to get there.

See, fairies live in a world of their own. Maybe it’s a bunch of worlds; I’m not sure about that part yet. But they don’t seem to like it there much, because they want to get into our world awful badly. To do this, they need a special kind of gate between their world and the human world. If I could find one of those gates, I could open it or close it. That was the extra-special magic I’d been born holding. That magic is so special, in fact, the fairies have a prophecy about me. They say: See her now, daughter of three worlds. See her now, three roads to choose. Where she goes, where she stays, where she stands, there shall the gates be closed.

I’ve got no idea what that means. Jack says that’s normal for prophecies. He says that until they come true nobody knows what a prophecy’s actually about.  If you ask me, that makes them pretty pointless. But, pointless or not, this particular prophecy has caused me all kinds of trouble. The fairies get all worked up into a tizzy by that “where she goes, where she stays, where she stands, there shall the gates be closed” part, and they keep trying to get me onto their side, either by threats or by tricks. Except I don’t want to side with any fairies. I just want to find my parents and get a chance to find out what being a normal person is all about.

My idea for starting our search through the studios had been to join up with one of the tour groups. Once we made it onto the back lot, we could wait for our chance to sneak away and hide.

Jack, being Jack, had a different idea. He spent most of our last fifty cents on a clean shirt at the secondhand store and the rest on a bath at a flophouse, walked in the front door of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which is the biggest movie studio in Hollywood, and asked for a job. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he walked out again and said he’d gotten one. It turned out that the MGM back lot was so big, they needed boys like Jack to run scripts and messages and stuff to the different offices and movie sets. One look at Jack’s mile-long legs had apparently sealed the deal. He was on the back lot now, and I was following after so he could sneak me in. We didn’t figure we could wander around looking like the kids we were without somebody getting suspicious, so I had to try to be a secretary or something like that, and that’s why I was all dressed up trying to look older than I was, and wearing exactly one piece of clothing that had never belonged to anybody else: I had on my first and only pair of silk stockings. I wished I could stop being nervous long enough to enjoy them.

It would’ve been lots easier if I could have just used my fairy magic. One of the things I can do with that magic is make people see exactly what they wish to see. But there’s a problem: when I use my magic, the other fairies can feel it. This was really bad, because it wasn’t just my parents those fairies were after. They wanted me too. So using magic was out. We were going to have to do this the hard way.

***

The sun was just starting to come up over the hills, but the trolley to Culver City was already full by the time it pulled into my stop. I had to hang on to a strap the whole way out, and I wondered if the high heels had actually been a good idea. At first I stood there trying to paste a look on my face that said I did this every day. That didn’t work so well, so I just concentrated on keeping my head down. I knew nobody was looking at me. Fairies weren’t the only ones who lived in their own world. Everybody else on that rattling, squeaking trolley was reading the paper or a book, or just staring out the windows at Los Angeles rolling past. Nobody knew me from Adam’s off ox here, and they cared even less about me. But that didn’t matter. My layers of disguise from the mission store felt paper-thin over the Callie LeRoux underneath, and a whole hive’s worth of questions was buzzing around inside my head. Like, what happened to girls who were screwy enough to try to sneak into movie studios? Probably they just got thrown out, maybe with a stern warning, and the boys who helped them get in were fired. On the other hand, the studio had all kinds of walls and fences around it, plus security guards sitting in these white houses at the gates. Maybe they’d arrest me. Us. Maybe we’d end up in jail. Did they send you out on the chain gang in California?

When I get nervous, I start to lose my hold on my fairy half. See, I can grant wishes. If someone really wants something, if they wish hard and with all their heart, I can make it come true. But magic always has another side and the other side of wishing magic is if I’m not careful, I feel any wishes being made around me.  Everybody on that trolley wished for something. They wished all the big and little things people wish in their own minds. They wished for fame, and better jobs, and love, and for that guy the next desk over to get what was coming to him, and a better seat on the trolley home. The fairy part of me wanted to grant those wishes. It’d be fun, and the people would be happy, and I’d get to feel all that happiness and all that love, just as clear as I could feel all those hungry wishes. I could take those strong feelings inside me and use them to fill up my magic with fresh power.  Then I could do anything I wanted. Anything at all.

I shoved that idea back down and tried to find something else to think about while we bounced and rattled and clanged over the rail crossing. I settled on making up a second letter to my mother. Mrs. Constantine would want to see me writing another one, and I wanted to keep Mrs. Constantine happy she she wouldn’t be asking any more questions than was strictly necessary.

The next letter would start like this: Dear Mama: Hope you are well. I promise I’ll be seeing you soon. And guess what? Today I got to see a real movie studio!

I’d tell her about Los Angeles too ,if I actually wrote that letter. She’d want to hear about that. It was so different from Slow Run that it might as well have been on another planet. The first dust storms had rolled across Kansas when I was maybe six. Miles of wheat fields turned into miles of desert and sand dunes overnight, and the black winds suffocated people with dust pneumonia or drove them out of their small towns looking for someplace where there might still be work, or even food.

But that dust had never reached Los Angeles. The hills that blocked off the empty horizon were bright green. Here the buildings were all clean and new. Coconut palms, live oaks, and date trees were everywhere, and there were more kinds of flowers than anywhere else in the world. Big cars and clanging trolleys filled the straight, paved streets.

It was big and loud, suspicious and mean, beautiful, exciting, and confusing, and despite everything and everybody after me, I was in deep danger of falling in love with the city.

It wasn’t love I was feeling by the time I climbed off the trolley, though. The cars and trucks that rumbled down the street belched heavy smoke into the morning air, crashing their gears and blaring horns at people who didn’t hit the gas quick enough when the light on the corner changed. It was going on nine o’clock. I was halfway to being sick and all the way to being exhausted from trying to keep my brain closed to all the wishing and feeling from the other trolley passengers. It only got a little better as they spread out onto the sidewalk, because they joined a whole river of other people who all had their own wishes. People came from all over the world to find work here, and their skin was every shade from pink to deep black and their eyes were all the shapes and colors you could think of. They wore all kinds of clothes: suits or overalls, pretty dresses or hotel maid uniforms, long silk coats and pants on the men from China or smocks and sandals on the men from Mexico or the Philippines. The white ladies had big floppy hats on their head to keep their skin from turning brown, the brown ladies wore big floppy hats to keep from turning black, and the black ladies wore prim hats and white gloves so nobody would think they were anything less than respectable.

I tried to hustle down the sidewalk to get past the worst of the crowds, but the heels weren’t making that real easy, especially when I had to duck around the people who stopped to grab their breakfast off the coffee car before they filed into the office buildings.

The offices were all on the right side of the road. On the left side, all you could see was a tall fence, its white paint peeling off in big patches. On the other side of that fence waited the studios of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Just thinking about it doubled those butterflies inside me. All the stars, fame, and glamour, all the stuff they wrote about in the magazines and the gossip columns or talked about on the radio shows—it all waited just on the other side of this long white fence, and I was going to walk in there, secondhand shoes and all. I’d be in the middle of it. Maybe I’d get to see them making a movie. Maybe I’d see somebody famous. Maybe Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, or even Ivy Bright.

But first I had to get through the gate. To do that I had to keep my head up and act like I belonged here. I lifted my chin, as though I walked past this fence every day and it meant nothing at all. Not that there was anybody left to see me. The sidewalk had cleared out, except for some men toting tin lunch pails and a raggedy bum hunched in the shadow of the fence.

“Spare a dime for a war vet?” I heard him croak as I got closer. “Spare a dime for a war vet?”

His big brown hands dangled on his knees, and he had his hat pulled low, so the battered hat brim covered his face. A few withered apples sat on the sidewalk beside him, not doing anything to attract a second glance from the workmen hurrying past.

“Spare a dime for a war vet?”

I meant to pass by, just like everybody else. You could see bums like him slouched on every corner in Los Angeles. Some of them were just men out of work and scrounging, but some were out of their heads from cheap wine or whatever else they’d found. I might have walked by him too if I hadn’t noticed how his broken shoes were all coated with gray dust. I knew all about trudging through the dust, and about trying to get through with just what you had with you, even when that was nothing at all.

I had one nickel left in my handbag. It was supposed to be trolley fare back home, but I could get another from Jack. Now that he had a steady job, we usually had at least a few cents left after we’d paid for room and board. That made us lucky. I wasn’t safe for me to be granting wishes just now, but I could spread what little luck I did have.

I laid my nickel down on the sidewalk and picked up one of the soft, sun-warmed apples.

“Thank you, miss.” The bum tipped his hat brim up.

I stepped back before I could help myself. This man had been through something bad. It’d left behind a long white scar from his forehead to his chin, straight down over his left eye. That eye was milk white, shining wet and blind in his wrinkled brown face, but his other eye was bright gold and amber, and that eye got a good look at me.

“You.” The bum surged to his feet. “I found you!”

He was a tall man and bone thin. His ragged clothes hung loose around his whole body. He smelled like the dickens and grinned big and loose, showing me the gaps where his teeth had been broken off.

I stepped back again, ready to run, but I wasn’t fast enough. His crooked hand shot out and clamped down on my wrist. “None of them could, but I knew, see, I knew . . .”

I wasn’t about to wait around to hear what he knew. I shoved that mushy apple right in his face, and when he jerked back, so did I. I whirled on my heel and stumbled up the street.

“Hey! Hey!” the bum shouted behind me. “Don’t go in there! They’ll spot you! They’ll get you! Come back, Callie!”

The sound of my name almost skidded me to a halt, but I clenched my fists and poured on the speed. He might’ve found me, but there was no way I was letting him catch me,. Whoever he was. I didn’t want to be found. Since the fairies had found me that first time, I’d been threatened and tricked and followed, and I’d come close to dying a bunch times more than is good for anybody. I put my head down and ran, and I didn’t stop to look around and find who was staring.

The studio’s side gate opened ahead of me, and I stumbled around the corner, plowing straight into Jack.

“Jack.” I stuck out one shaking finger behind me, and we both looked where I was pointing. But the bum was gone.

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