Something was happening.
Ada Watson had been taking her afternoon walk when she spotted the car careening at speed along Melrose Avenue. Just last week, Ladies Home Journal had advised most strenuously that if one wanted to be truly full of pep and energy it was necessary to spend as much time as possible engaged in physical activity in the open air (particularly if one was amongst the new army of “working girls” and consequently spent most of the daylight hours sitting industriously in front of a typewriter), and to regularly eat spinach. As Ada had no intention of eating like a rabbit however much pep it promised, she supposed that a habit of daily walks would d her no harm, especially if it provided a break from typing up her review of the particularly dreary play she had been sentenced to watch the night before.
That a car was speeding erratically wasn’t remarkable in itself; the picture business had a habit of providing people with the riches with which to purchase cars long before the countenance to operate them responsibly, but this was no ordinary car. Her best friend Callie often teased Ada that nothing happened in the movie colony without Ada making a little note of it just in case it proved useful knowledge in the future, and sure enough, she instantly recognised the one-of-a-kind Silver Ghost Rolls-Royce that belonged to Wallace H Macmillan of RLP Studios. If Mr Macmillan was speeding, something was happening.
Ada dashed across the street to where she parked her beloved Briggs and Stratton Flyer and started the engine. The two bucket seats of red leather were mounted on a flat wooden platform and the wheels were red — including the fifth wheel at the back on which was mounted a small gasoline engine a engine which powered the car. Her brother Fred scoffed that it was barely a real motor car, but Ada countered that her ‘Red Bug’ had been inexpensive — though at $115 still a frightening amount to spend all at once — and that two horse power was more than enough to serve her needs.
That said, it had precisely zero chance of keeping pace with the Silver Ghost. Despite her spirited defense of her vehicle in the face of her brother’s scorn, Ada was utterly fascinated with cars and dreamed of one day riding in one fast enough to feel as though she were flying. One of her favourite actresses, Florence Lawrence, not only starred in racing pictures but was a keen ‘petrol head’ in her own time, and the one occasion at which Ada dared to approach her, the two had passed a very happy hour discussing the newest innovations in motor racing. A few weeks earlier, newspapers had reported a Silver Ghost had reached the barely imaginable speed of 78.2 miles per hour at a racing track in England, and the very thought of it quite took Ada’s breath away.
Macmillan certainly wasn’t driving at anything like that speed, but Ada keenly felt the limitations of her Flyer as she watched the Ghost roar towards the Beverly Hills in a cloud of dust.
If he was heading that way, it was either to Pickfair or to Archie Tanner’s new home, Ada decided. There was nothing else out that way but a few ranches and empty mountains, and as Archie Tanner was currently contracted to RLP Studios, it was a safe bet that was where Macmillan was speeding.
A little while later, Ada pulled up outside the gigantic wrought iron gates of Archie Tanner’s ostentatious house, she immediately spotted the Ghost part haphazardly next to the front and in front of the grand white pillars of the mansion. She crept closer to the gates and peered through. Several crystal champagne glasses were strewn on the lawn, as well as a tarnished saxophone and a feather boa.
Archie Tanner’s parties were legendary — Ada and Callie had once managed to sneak into one and were so stunned by what they witnessed that it took them almost a week before they could even discuss it. But this wasn’t the usual torturous come down after a night of debauchery, Ada thought, narrowing her eyes. There was something muted, strained in the air; the dozens of black windows suddenly taking on a malevolent air.
‘You! You there! What do you think you’re doing?’
One of Archie’s staff, a tall man with an angry scar on his face, came dashing furiously across the lawn.
‘I see you — this is private property! You have no right —’
Heart hammering, Ada leapt back into her Flyer and sped back towards the city.