Fresh from the pages of our Winter 2020 issue, this week’s feature author is the multi-talented Mel Anastasiou. As a writer, editor, and mentor, Mel is dedicated to the written word and the writer’s craft. Her stories captivate and entertain readers, and her writing guides encourage new and seasoned authors alike.
Today, we offer you an excerpt from Pulp Literature Issue 25, Winter 2020: Part 3 of the Monument Studios Mystery The Extra, starring Frankie Ray and Connie Mooney. The intrepid duo reaches Hollywood in their stolen rattletrap, with unexpected extra cargo — a mendacious movie mogul and his gun-shot son. A power struggle at the highest levels and a gun under the seat propel the can-do heroines to a rocky start in Tinseltown, 1934.
The Extra: Frankie Ray Rolls into Tinseltown
by Mel Anastasiou
This was not how Frankie had planned to arrive in Los Angeles.
Not with King Samson, head of Monument Studios, hunched over the wheel of the Model A. Not with Frankie in the rumble seat, hanging on with both hands and jouncing madly with every turn as midday wore on to afternoon.
Frankie said, “I wish we didn’t have to drive so fast.”
“You go ahead and wish,” King Samson said. “I’m in a hurry. I’ve got to put myself between Marietta and my director before she drives him crazy with her woman-director opinions. Or he up and quits.”
“I’m cold and windblown,” Connie said, “and bounced halfway to old age.”
“Tin-can it,” Samson said. “The two of you have groused and fidgeted ever since we pulled over for coffee and doughnuts three hours ago. Cold coffee.”
“Tasty doughnuts,” Frankie murmured. “And my cocoa was plenty hot.”
The head of Monument Studios changed gears with a roar. [Illo 2 Frankie Issue 25]
With Samson doing the lion’s share of the driving, they stopped only when the tanks showed empty. Once the tanks were filled, they’d torn past Burma-Shave ads so quickly that they missed half the punch lines. Now it was Thursday afternoon, and as California deepened around them, Samson refused to give up the wheel, ripping through grim forests of oil wells and storming seas of pastel bungalows edged with white picket fences.
Frankie wiggled her knees around on the rumble seat and thought about things. She thought, for example, that even though he’d paid for their food and fuel all the way south, King Samson’s shoe was too heavy on the gas. Connie never learned to speed up when she was taking a corner, like Frankie did. And Leo, with his wounded shoulder, never took the wheel at all. But they’d made it almost all the way to Hollywood, and that fact alone made her smile until the wind slapped a small bit of something into her eye.
She squeezed her eyes half-shut and blinked until they were clear. Palm trees along the side of the road cast shadows that flicked over her like scenes from a stuttering movie projector. Every so often an oil derrick, smack in the middle of the road, lowed and creaked as they passed, and for a moment or two the whole world smelled like petroleum. Frankie almost lost her hat to the wind, staring goggle-eyed at ticky-tack businesses like the Coffeepot Diner — shaped, by heaven, like a coffeepot. On the left side of the road stood midnight auto supply garages. shiny with stacked hubcaps. On the right lay junkyards, prickly with scrap iron. Where, Frankie asked herself, was the grandeur? Where was the glamour?
Where was Hollywood?
She pictured her father, glowering over the rim of his sherry glass. “Fool of a girl, look to the hills, whence cometh my help.”
Even from his bed a thousand miles to the north, her father was right. Frankie looked to the hills, and there it was. She nudged Connie. Heads swivelling, they gaped at the huge crooked letters standing chalk-white against the green and brown hills above the city.
The huge sign read Hollywoodland. Frankie was so overcome by the sight that she had to remind herself to breathe.
Samson leaned forward and jutted out his chin, both hands on the wheel of the Model A. They sped like an arrow straight down the street to the end of the road. Ahead, the road widened into a palm-lined avenue, busy with traffic.
A smaller sign on the roadside read Sunset Boulevard.
The end of the road. Frankie could hardly believe they’d arrived. She could more easily believe that the four of them would sit in this car, in a tangle of mutual help and enmity, to the end of time. But they’d made it, and straight ahead of them stood a pair of gates as tall and golden as the gates of song and story. Shining letters across a great wall read Monument Studios, and beside the gates there loomed a pair of radiant statues.
In addition to the Monument Studio Mysteries, Mel writes the Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries, featuring Spencer Stevens, and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, starring Stella Ryman, which won a Literary Titan Gold Book Award and was longlisted for the Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. As well, she is the author of two illustrated writing guides for Pulp Literature Press. Follow her at MelAnastasiou.wordpress.com and on twitter @melanastasiou