Chapter Four: A Forbidden Palace and The Montecito Club
It was later that week that Victore came into the El Paseo bar as planned to meet Paco and after a quick drink followed him out to the back where their motorcycles where chained. Hopping on the bikes the two raced to the highway and almost an hour later they came to the gates of The Forbidden Palace, an old rancho with a series of low adobe structures. The main hacienda had an immense façade with arches and an embellished portal. The first impression was that of a magnificent dwelling, but with a closer look any guest could see the place was shabby and ill kept. Tonight it was lit up with gaudy pink and green lights and there were dark figures hovering around the doorway.
They entered into the great room that revolved around a grand fountain now decorated with nearly nude women, some frolicking in the water while others were seated drinking and smoking around the base. Almost a dozen painted ladies were standing on the steps of a staircase waving and flirting behind fans. Most were wearing bright colored negligees and Chinese peignoirs with fresh flowered lies of bright cerise bougainvillea leaves and gardenias in their hair. Paco was drinking in the visual banquet. He loved how the dark stockings ended high on the girls legs with garters of roses and streaming ribbons. He wondered if he could sit on the side and paint them and if he did would the work be any good? He worried constantly whether he would ever be good enough. There was a jazz band and a long bar at one side where the two men sat shooting some version of “bathtub gin” and waiting for a hostess that would usher them into a tiny room with their lady of choice. Abruptly someone had a hold of his leg. Looking down under the bar Paco could see a little finger motioning him to lean down. It was Juan Carlos, from Diehls, Salvador’s little brother, who urgently forced his mouth to one ear and whispered, “Paco, you got to come now. The lady, she is dying. You know her. She is the one who is missing.”
Paco nudged Victore. Moving quietly behind the boy they walked a long way out to a low building apparently without windows. They slithered inside overwhelmed with smoke and the freakish appearance of the room. They crawled along bed after bed covered in oriental rugs containing the bodies of dazed and sleeping people. There were Chinese attendants that filled the pipes or rearranged the bedding and pillows providing more comfort for the guests. A heavy sickening sweet smoke hung like a pale purple cloud over all. The boy pointed to a carved wooden structure that was enclosed by embroidered and striped curtains. Paco found an opening and looking inside he was stunned to find an ivory skinned woman, lying like sculpted marble, covered only with a paisley shawl. It all came back at once. How he had last seen her sitting shattered in the chaos of the Seville Club. He moved forward to lean over her angelic face, carefully lifting one of her eyelids. There were the glittering golden and green flecks in a circle of soft grey now with a tiny little black dot, like a pinpoint in the center. Paco pulled the shawl aside and put his ear gently on her naked breast. He could hear a distant beat. Lillian was alive!
Next he remembered he was grabbed from behind with a hand over his nose and mouth along with a powerful pinch on his juggler. He was out, his head bashed on the solid tile floor. When he came to consciousness he could see he was laid out next to a dead looking Victore with their two bikes in the back of a flat bed truck passing out the gates of the Palace. He heard somebody say, “so that’s your kid, Oakley? What the hell is he doing out here? Christ, he’s gonna get killed if they find out about him.”
Paco blacked out again and awoke as strong arms supported him into his little porch. He lay down with Ranger’s long wet nose searching him over and some warm slippery licking on his face that was distressing now with a huge egg-shaped bruise forming high on the forehead. Madonna was at his side and she rose to face the man who brought him home. He was so tall, well over six feet and so handsome that he could have been famous. This man with a powerful body had little smiling crinkles at the outer corners of each eye. He blinked ashamedly at Paco’s Mother, his wife. Every ounce of him wanted to take her in his arms and beg for forgiveness. Loving her so much he knew this would never work. He was a marked man and his loved ones would suffer if ever the truth came out. All this emotion wrapped in a tender glance and returned by Madonna with tears gleaming she kissed his huge hand and murmured, “thank you”.
Paco spent a fitful night of pain and oblivion. He arose very early and called Paget, his fireman friend from the team. He needed advise on how to report Lillian’s location and find help for her as fast as possible. He knew that The Forbidden Palace was purposefully out of the jurisdiction of Santa Barbara and lay in a county that was sparsely populated without much if any law enforcement. What there was would be well paid to stay out of business at the Palace. Paget promised to call in the report to the fire department and then the Police would be notified. Next he called El Mirador’s Kitchen to check for Victore who answered sounding groggy but alive.
Paco exhaled and sank to the chair with his head in his hands and tenderly searched for the huge lump that was now a source of terrible pain. It was astoundingly big so he moved slowly to the bathroom mirror to see the damages. “Oh God” he whispered as he saw the disfigured effect of his wound. From his hairline to his right eyebrow there was a unbelievable amount of swelling but the most shocking was the black and many shades of brown with purple bruising that extended well down below the eye and darkened around the top of the cheekbone. The white of that eye was blood red and a side of his nose was skinned. He was almost intrigued with the vision but so horrified he walked out to dress and get to work refusing to believe what he saw. He covered his damages with his aviator cap, all the flaps down, and gingerly put on the goggles with the green lenses covering the eyes. He found The Indian safely propped against the house and headed for Diehls. All the way he was tortured, thinking of Lillian’s astonishing beauty and the tragic way it was used and spoiled. He blamed himself, knowing how he could have saved her as she sat pitifully drunk in the Seville Club.
Entering through the back to his office he moved swiftly to get the phone that was ringing. He imagined it was Paget reporting that Lillian had been rescued. Not so, it was the cook from the Hoffman’s estate, the fabulous Casa Santa Cruz, who was checking on the orders for the Gypsy Camp an affair that happened about once a month. He confirmed item after item and set about gathering the final order. He had already delivered an entire lamb butchered for the spit the day before. Sal came over to help him load everything into the truck. He looked closely into Paco’s eyes through the green glasses and drew back. “Are you ok? Here, go sit down. I’ve got it. What happened brother? Did you crash The Indian?” Paco nodded not knowing what to say. They silently packed and he was off.
He had several other stops that needed to be included. The first was the home of George Washington Smith, Casa Dracaena, a sublime structure that made him famous. Created after a tour of Andalusia with his wife, the Hill Barons and their super wealthy friends saw this wonderful home and the brilliant architect with his great assistant Lutah Riggs were hard at work designing upward of 70 more legendary estates throughout the region and beyond. Both Smith and his wife loved to cook so it was always fun for Paco to hear them talk about the dishes they wanted to make and the rare ingredients they ordered from all over the world.
Next stop was for the Hoffmans at their Casa Santa Cruz, a grand mansion that was situated on land right next to the famous Old Mission Santa Barbara and the Seminary nearby. Bernard Hoffman and his wife brought their young daughter who was gravely afflicted with diabetes to Santa Barbara and the brilliant Dr. Sansum who had become a pioneer in the treatment of insulin. They fell in love with the romance of the region and the Spanish influence that made the city so rare. He, along with many city patrons like Storke, Murphy, Malis, and the inimitable Pearl Chase, are credited with the creation and preservation of Santa Barbara style. The sentient event that spurned this movement was the terrible earthquake that left so much devastation. Many buildings were falling down or so damaged that they had to be torn down and hauled to the bay where they became the habitat for delighted sea life. Hoffman set up shop on the grounds of Casa de la Guerra where he made available distinguished architect’s plans free for any homeowner who wished to rebuild. The plans were provided through a competition that Bernard held and attracted all the most talented from the region. In addition the plans were available from famous Spanish cities like Seville, Toledo and areas throughout Andalusia. Hoffman and Malis created the Del Paseo Restaurant with Bernard’s famous “Street in Spain”.
Casa Santa Cruz was huge and rambling white washed adobe style with turquoise green shutters and terra cotta tile roof. Driving into a large courtyard entrance, there was a big kitchen with staff quarters along the right and the main entrance on the left. A charming winding staircase with cascading flowers and plants to the far left led to Hoffman’s home office. Paco pulled up to the kitchen door and found the cook who was something of an albino with milk white skin and matching hair that bristled wildly. She wore white garments with a long white apron. The only other color was from a pair of dark brown tortoise rimmed glasses, very round and very dark. Paco was always curious to know if her eyes were actually pink but he never showed her this interest. Everyone called her “Cookie” but that was a comical name given by a very small child to an exceedingly serious and reserved person. She had to adhere to a strict diet for the Hoffman’s little daughter who now was skipping around Paco and badgering him with a crochet mallet.
Given his outrageously painful condition the fun and games were off for today. But the little one would not have it and calling her father she demanded to have Paco come to the Gypsy Camp. “Can he come? Can he come? Please Daddy let Paco come to the Camp! He can dance with me and we can throw rocks in the fire and he will help in the garden and, and” the girl was bouncing off her father’s knee and stepping all over his highly polished shoes. She grabbed Paco and pushed him forward where he bowed slightly to Hoffman and then moved back so as not to display his bruises. The doting father agreed and issued a courteous invitation with a certain tone that made Paco commit immediately.
The family was one of Diehls best customers and inside he really did want to see one of these Gypsy Camp affairs in person. Bernard and his wife along with an eclectic group of artists, architects and musicians, mainly the entire eccentric creative community that came from all over the world, appeared together in complete costume for the reenactment of an authentic Gypsy encampment including an elaborate Bohemian painted wagon that often housed a prominent fortune teller imported for the evening.
Bernard found large tree stumps and had them imbedded into the ground in a large circle around a huge fire pit. Almost scandalously romantic these soirees included many of the El Paseo entertainers and restaurant staff. They created a buffet with the barbequed lamb that the cooks from the restaurant stuffed with onions, oranges and bundles of rosemary and thyme. They tossed potatoes into the embers and prepared a huge salad layered with chopped tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, red & green peppers, many slices of avocado, chunks of cheese and crusty garlic spiked croutons. They mixed this with a robust vinaigrette made tangy by adding a green chili salsa. All this pleasure was promised and now the lucky delivery man intended to experience it all.
Paco also had orders that day for Mrs. Dorinda Bliss. Pretty and affable, she loved to tell the story of her New York roots and how she visited Santa Barbara many times as a young girl and dreamed of a grand "casa" in Montecito that would be a cultural center for the community. The day came when her husband agreed so the charismatic Mrs. Bliss hired architect Carleton Winslow, who had designed buildings for the 1915 Exposition in San Francisco. Casa Dorinda, was an impressive mansion, with its ornate ironwork, sturdy walls and graceful tower rising above the third floor, with more than 80 rooms surrounding a central patio. Diehls supplied the provisions for momentous events entertaining illustrious guests including King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, and President Herbert Hoover. World famous violinists Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman played from the stage of Mrs. Bliss' Music Room shortly after sold out performances in Carnegie Hall. Many other notables of the music world enchanted the fortunate invited to Dorinda’s parties.
This delivery was for an upcoming performance by Jan Paderewski, possibly the most famous and popular pianist of all times. The great artist had a large ranch and winery in Northern California plus a private train car that he retired to when he performed but not when he came to Casa Dorinda. Paderewski stayed as long as he wanted. He thought the air was so perfect and the water so pure it helped his painful rheumatic condition. This trip he planned to spend time at The Montecito Club a private spa in the hills said to be the source of the local Indian’s ancient sacred spring. Deliveries to The Club were always a daunting specter for Paco who could only drive the truck to a lower plateau where he was met with tiny donkeys, several with carts, that carried the supplies and guests up a precarious pathway to the large two story stone and wood hotel. His body was throbbing and he could feel his heartbeat in the giant knot on his forehead so the delivery today promised to be beastly.
Paco spent the arduous trip concentrating on the spectacular panoramic ocean and island views overlooking many of the grandest estates that he served. He had a clear view of his home, The Quien Sabe Ranch, and Il Brolino close by. To the Southeast he saw the hills of Cima Del Mundo rising verdant and colored with wild flowers. Below there was El Mirador with it’s awesome Italian garden. To the north he found the reflecting pools of Il Fluerides, Val Verde next door and Piranhurst Mountain ascending above. He passed majestic Sycamore and oak trees that lined the Hot Springs Creek and Canyon.
Once at the top the caretaker and the cook joined by members greeted him and helped unload. Paco was a favorite at the Club since he had so many stories to tell. He described the events with glorious menus and dishes that the famous Chefs and cooks created. They always gave him full privileges that included the baths, a tasty lunch and hoped he would stay on for a good long chat.
The Club provided in a rustic relaxed ambiance for its members. The large structure contained a number of suites, each consisting of a bedroom and bathroom with a hot tub. The hot tubs were of various sizes; one tub, measuring about 10 by 12 feet, was furnished with several outlets enabling the occupants to select water from various springs with different water temperature and mineral content. In the main lodge, Paco would first sit in the kitchen, bringing the news from town to the staff. Next he would soak in a tub until the meal was served in a long dining room that had a lounge with a huge walk-in fireplace where everyone gathered and enjoyed mellow conversation. On this day they were shocked to see their dear Paco was injured and they set about making a plan for his cure with the Club’s magical waters.
Their owners furnished each of the suites so the interiors varied from opulent in the case of the Louis 14th influenced quarters of Julia Sturdwell down to plain and stark. This day Paco was taken to the Blanding family’s room where he was warmed by a cozy fireplace and a big brass bed covered in quilts. Nice white linens were there with a very big shirred beaver throw. All the colors were natural except for the bright patchwork of many patterns.
Nanette Blanding was a spinster woman in her fifties with a severe hairdo and a knot so tight it gave her a vaguely oriental appearance. Adding to that would be her Chinese silk pajamas that did cling to her thin athletic body as she rolled up her sleeves to prepare the bath water for Paco. “OK”, she said , “take them off, all off”, and he cooperated starting with the goggles and aviator cap that had left welts in his swollen areas. He felt very weak now with pain, exhaustion and had not eaten for many hours. Paco thought he was going to pass out as little spots danced before him. Miss Blanding finished the disrobing with deft hands and escorted him to the tub. She began slowly immersing him in the silky tepid water that smelled of scrambled eggs and toast. The feeling was so comforting on all the senses. So soothing on all the areas that hurt so much. Using a giant sea sponge the lady softly drizzled the healing waters onto the swollen and bruised areas of his face.
Nan knew how to do this very well and took great pleasure in giving this indulgence to others. She knew the stories of the ancient Indian healing methods and for Paco she brought out the white sage wands and lit the tips, blowing out the fire and allowing the smoke to whisper out as she slowly waved them around and over the wounded areas. Strangely, Paco slipped into a kind of trance like state with his entire body becoming weightless. All the soreness and misery appeared to float away and he lay in this delicious limbo for some time.
Miss Blanding slowly allowed the tepid water to flow out and new stronger, hotter natural spring water filled the tub. Then she took out a pair of mitts that had a soft bristly side to scrub the body clean and energize her patient with rosemary oil and floating bags of chamomile tea. There Paco lay submerged in a kind of ecstasy until the water cooled. With gifted hands now the lady began to massage his shoulders and neck moving her fingers gently around to his damaged head and face. The waters were changed again now to a cool crisp clear bath and he was pulled to standing as Miss Blanding rubbed him briskly with a big Turkish towel. She wrapped him in a flannel cover and guided him to the bed where piled with quilts he fell into a deep peaceful sleep. Unnoticed by Paco, Nan tenderly swabbed his bruised and skinned areas with a mystic potion she created from wild plants gathered in the surrounding hills. She lit a rose scented candle on his bed stand and tip toed out to let him repair.
The entire ritual took several hours and Paco arose on his own feeling like a new person. He dressed and went over to the mirror. There before him was the old Paco complete with a mass of bouncy brown curls. The swelling was almost gone. The bruising was pale and changed to a soft golden color in some of the worst places. Even the red of his eye and the scraped nose were barely in evidence. This was a miracle! He was stunned and grateful. He walked to the kitchen and found a happy group serving up bowls of lentil soup. Dining together the chatter was energized and the soup, laced with fresh dill, had big hunks of potato with chopped carrots and peas. He could detect ginger and paprika but there was also a hint of curry or some exotic note that Paco did not recognize. He liked to play a little game with his Mother and anyone else who would take the hook. It was called, “What’s in it?” and the one who came closest won. Now everyone was playing and as usual the winner was the cook. Shapely individual fresh baked brioche was passed in a big basket. Newly churned butter and just made apricot jam came too. Paco filled up with all this goodness and drank plenty of clove spiced iced tea with orange slices. His resurrection was nothing short of miraculous!
Everyone moved to the area before the giant fireplace and the talk began about the American Garden Club visit and then the accident where they wanted to hear the details first hand. Paco was rapidly reminded of the terrible ache in his heart for the pitiful Lillian and it urged him to think of the time and his formidable little trip back to Diehls where he could make some calls to see if there was any news of her rescue.
Paco was midway down the mountain when a small bit of memory from the terrible night at The Palace came to him. He heard the voice over and over. “If they find out about him they’re gonna kill him”? What does that mean? Was it about him or Victore? And who brought him home anyway? Then his flashback expanded. The voice, he remembered, said “Oakley”. The voice was talking to someone named “Oakley”. That was his name. That was his Father’s name. Now he could not wait to get home and ask his Mother about this.