Chapter Six: The Gypsy Camp
Paco packed the truck like a robot still dazed by the truth of his Father’s life and the enormous complexity it brought to him. He needed time for this to penetrate. He had two more deliveries and then he fully intended to accept the Hoffman’s little daughter’s invitation to the notorious Gypsy Camp soiree. With mind buzzing, he drove through the elaborate iron gates to Miraflores, meaning “look at the flowers”, an elegant mansion designed by premiere architect Reginal Johnson who was just completing the fabulous Biltmore Hotel.
The estate was created from the remains of the Montecito Country Club that was, early in the decade, destroyed by a scandalous fire and murder that was never solved. A superlative example of Spanish domestic architecture it featured a regal carved stone entrance centered at the end of a dramatic straight-line approach that Paco was now passing continuing around to the rear. He loved the gardens, especially the roses. From the rear terrace he could see the sunken pool and formal cultivated elements. The terraced beds were skillfully arranged to display colorful patterns with carefully selected flowers of many descriptions.
The two story house enclosed three sides of a large rear terrace flanked by a romantic loggia, a space that Paco and Salvador knew well since they served often as bartenders for the many parties that John Percival Jefferson and his wife Mary held there. A large beautifully wood paneled living room also hosted the renowned musicians of the moment. The Butler ceremoniously stooped to unlock a trap door that revealed steps down to the splendid wine cellar that originally served the Country Club.
Paco was directed to put the beverages on the shelves below. He inhaled deeply a perfume of famous vintage wines peacefully aging and the rich heady aroma of the fine cigars stored in handsome wooden silver trimmed humidors. Lifting heavy crates he was red-faced remembering a salacious moment stolen away with a cigarette girl, the two forced to remain hidden for more than an hour as the guests above endured an endless recital by an unknown coloratura soprano and a tenor with such a sharp piercing voice it burned their ears even below ground. Up and off now to one final stop.
The grand 70-acre Arcady was one of Montecito’s most magnificent estates. It was distinctive including the tower that created a regal image and included a number of buildings throughout extensive grounds with gentle hills giving the overall appearance of a small village. It was the residence of Mr George O. Knapp. Above all it commanded an inspiring eminence with a spacious view. Behind the estate, customarily viewed from a spectacular vantage point complete with columns and sculpture, soar sudden mountains angling down to the coast, their slopes etched in vertical patterns by a thousand watercourses and outcroppings.
Below and in front of the mansion lies the graceful curve of the shoreline, and the waters of the Pacific that on clear days appear as blue as lapis lázuli. In the distance, Santa Rosa Island stretches its great length like a sleeping giant. All this magnificence soothed the soul of the artist-delivery man who always took the time to drink in the beauty and notice the myriad of wild birds and small animals that scurried across his path as he drove up to the kitchens.
He had three drop off locations on the property. First, the main house, originally built by the fabled Ralph Radcliffe-Whitehead & Jane Byrd McCall Whitehead, a couple who contributed greatly to the Arts and Crafts movement that started in England by William Morris. Here, in Montecito the architectural style of the mansion resembled a Mediterranean villa, designed by an architect named Samuel Ilsley. When Jane’s husband died her dream of creating a center for as she put it, “a simpler, a truer, a more vital art expression”, that involved living and studio spaces for painters, poets, composers, sculptors and potters, ended and the great estate was sold to the Knapps.
The second delivery point was a large series of buildings that provided for the staff, the stables and a large outdoor kitchen for California style Barbeques. But the best of the three, in Paco’s mind, was the delivery to Joannah Hartfield Prang, a masterful ceramicist who lived in the charming hillside guesthouse that perfectly reflected the concept of “The Simple Home”, a wooden Craftsman’s dream.
The house was her studio-salon, a place to create and exhibit her work as well as a home to receive guests and that is how she treated the Diehls delivery man who she knew, in her psychic way, would be a great artist. He sat by her in the tall main room with a balcony from which hung oriental rugs and Indian saris. The walls, too, were adorned with textiles, rugs and tapestries. Her robust well-formed pottery was casually arrayed on chairs and more formally on a massive round oak table in the center of the space.
Several large armoires with handsome Craftsman style carving provided storage and could be opened for her exhibits to show off many more pieces. The two sat together in straight back seventeenth century chairs. Exotic details like the oriental brass lamps and a giant brazier emitting sandalwood incense intrigued Paco. Moody muted shades of turquoise and rust with indigo blue and deep ochre created a dark impression. The sun made dazzling elongated patterns on oriental rugs and before the stone fireplace that always seemed to be glowing there was a fleecy brown bearskin.
Joannah in her enchanted guesthouse was the last remnant of Whitehead’s fantasy and she was allowed to stay rent-free as a part of the Knapp purchase agreement. So the aging artist and the young man discussed all manner of things, sipping chai tea with vanilla cream and munching on chocolate macaroons. They loved to pull out books of art or architecture almost always referencing work from the Arts & Crafts Movement. One such volume was a catalog of the textiles and wallpapers of Morris and his studio mates. This was mesmerizing for Paco who memorized the color palettes to use in his own paintings.
On this day Joannah had a client and so the delivery was brief, as she demanded a kiss before leaving. Paco was on the road back to Diehls now for a swift clean up, a shave and smooth application of a little Murray's Pomade to keep the curls under control. He changed into his soft sweater with his dark brown leather jacket. Hopping onto The Indian he was off to the dream-like Casa Santa Cruz and the excitement of The Gypsy Camp.
Cruising the driveway to the mansion he passed the site of the camp that was crawling with early preparations, the scent of lamb & rosemary roasting in the air. Deciding to check in at the main house he parked the Indian behind a hedge and knocked on the front door. Time passed and just before he planned to walk down to the camp the door opened to see a very merry little face with a big broad grin that exposed two missing front teeth. She had the purest skin and eyes and even though a bit thin, maybe fragile, he could see there was a hearty spirit alive and well. She flew forward hugging him and grabbing his hand pulled him inside.
Paco had never been inside before. Intrigued he caught sight of a hand painted coffered ceiling in the entry with gold embellishments and painted bouquets of flowers in each square. The Butler’s station and office was off of the most impressive dark red tile floor, laid in a herringbone pattern that was glassy with polish. He peeked up a flight of stairs to see a portion of a brilliant stained glass window. Stopping at a large door, the girl opened it to show him a fully stocked bar, walls painted like a circus tent with clowns, horses and balloons. “Do you want a soda? I can make you one. I’m not allowed to have any Coca Cola but I can make one for you?”
This little one was so adorable with very bright brown eyes, maybe five tiny freckles on her nose and her braids in loops, tied up high on the head with many colors of very thin ribbons matching the trim on her peasant blouse and very full short ruffled skirt. She wore white stockings to the knee and patent leather Mary Janes that clattered from the taps on the toes. Paco shook his head and she led him on skipping and bouncing all the way to an enormous living room, wood paneled in antiqued ash that included many shelves for books and collectibles. There was a bank of French doors that opened out to a sizable brick veranda. He could see large terra cotta pots filled with blooming hydrangeas or lavender, some glazed with a pale turquoise. “I can read you a story”, she said, shuffling through a stack of books on her child size desk. “Or, I know, let’s go!”
She grabbed his hand again and pulled him to the adjoining room that was jaw dropping in size and style. They entered a huge space, again flanked by French doors out to a veranda, but the spectacular feature here was the lustrous parquet floor that provided a perfect ballroom. The little Hoffman ran to the phonograph at the end of the room and with a few noisy false starts put the needle in place and ran to Paco’s side for the music to begin. Puzzled he waited seconds with her until a big orchestra played the hit song from “No, No, Nanette”, a tap dancer’s dream. Automatically she danced her way along, her braids bouncing, ruffles flouncing and tap shoes flashing. Paco pretended to partner up but he really was just playing the game watching her move. She was really very, very good!
He twirled her and stood aside with arms motioning to her for a solo. Now he was stunned, his huge eyes wide with amazement. Her dancing shifted to a new level of dazzling artistry; so much expressive style and tapping that matched the music perfectly. Breathing heavily and now with burning red cheeks the child stood and in turn motioned for his solo.
Feeling silly but committed he did his best. Just at that moment the Hoffmans walked in and a concerned Mother escorted the little star out as she complained loudly, begging to stay. Bernard, a true gentleman, in soft tones explained the critical nature of his daughter’s diabetic condition that did not allow for over excitement. He and Paco walked together out onto the veranda and through the wild verdant natural gardens passing a splendid Spanish star fountain on the way down to the Camp.
Around the blazing fire there was a row of massive tree stumps that accommodated any who wanted warmth and a very wide pounded earth pathway where the dancers and strolling musicians performed. Surrounding this was a series of rustic log benches dotted with Spanish shawls and garlands of various greens. Behind the benches ran a chain of lighted torches and a lawn.
At one end stood the elaborate Gypsy wagon painted with fantastic imagery that was now a bit faded. Flowers and cupids playing inside a giant golden horseshoe, magical writing around deep red roses entwined a fortuneteller’s hand of fate, and fancy scrolls in lattice designs with playing cards covered the entire outside. There were carved embellishments as well as a polychrome spool rail gallery that trimmed the roof. A curved wooden ladder led to a cottage style front door with the top section open. All this was perched high on four enormous spoke wheels so with the shuttered windows, tonight open, it was difficult to actually see inside, but the candle light flickered granting a shadowy peek at drapes of rich red velvet and golden brocade.
Scattered on the other side of the lawn were hand hewn picnic tables. One was jumbo size and served as the buffet, now laden with giant platters of carved lamb, crocks of salsa and big bowls of El Paseo salad, soon to be accompanied by stacks of freshly made steamed tortillas. There was a long bar, tonight attended by Salvador and his little brothers, Juan Carlos and Rodriego, who continually served rows of drinks, the alcohol supposedly provided secretly by the guests. All the dancers and musicians were slowly filtering into this dramatic arena. A certain tension arose; a mysterious wave appeared to bewitch the entire campsite promising a night of revelry and seduction.
Women were wearing strong colors, almost electric. Often the necklines started high with sleeves reaching the elbow then finished in a single ruffle. Some blouses plunged open with a generous décolletage supported by straps, combined with delicate lace and short jackets. Most of the dresses had rows of ruffles and were topped by little fringed shawls. Polka dots were everywhere in all sizes, and closely arranged to show off the feminine form with sensuality and daring.
The magnificent Esperanza passed by in a tightly fitted black skirt dramatically flared at the bottom with a separate bodice ruffled in bright yellow linen and eyelet overlays that properly glorified her impressive bosom. She was arm in arm towering over her man of the evening, famous baritone Fortuno Bona Nova who was meticulous as a classical Flamenco dancer with high-wasted black trousers and starched white shirt under a short waistcoat and a red cummerbund. A soft black fedora made him complete.
Mama Genet and Fayola floated across the lawn in striking Gypsy costumes jingling from layers of jewelry dripping with gold coins. Their heads were tightly covered with scarves and they wore ornate dangling earrings. Heading for the wagon, aided by several bystanders to maneuver the little wooden ladder, they disappeared inside. Now many distinguished and familiar faces began to grace the assembly. Mr & Mrs John Wright, Paco’s own Hill Barons of the Quien Sabe Ranch and Mrs Ellen Bothin of Piranhurst, who everyone called Nellie, arrived together thematically attired.
A congregation of artists began to rendezvous on one specific table including some who were prominent but most known to be fearsome partygoers with flasks already flashing around. There were plein air painters Charlie Borasco and Shadow Woosley, a well known double threat, esteemed printmakers Brian Felco and wife Selma, oil painter Clad McCaskey, the much collected Mathew Farmington and in the center Joannah Hartfield Prang, striking in a dark green velvet ensemble with a tall comb that bore her exquisite black lace mantilla.
The musicians began the traditional gypsy dance music of Spain, in whose undulating vocals, supple arm movements, and stamping footwork displayed powerful Moorish and Arabic influences. Sometimes they danced to the accompaniment of singing and clapping only but this troupe came with many guitars and castanets, several fiddlers and an old man with a concertina. Tambourines with streamers were passed around so any could join in. Everyone at the Gypsy Camp anticipated individual performances distinguished by a passionate inventiveness. They played with the rhythms, each dance bearing it’s own striking intensity of expression.
On the pathway around the fire in a regal procession, slowly striding for ultimate dramatic effect came the stars of the El Paseo Revue, the brilliant Maestro Jose Fernandez and his gorgeous partner Carola Alvena, Nina Sandoval a gifted mime, comedy dancers Carmela and Gabriel Cansino, sensual siblings Lupe and Rudy Valesco, Camille De Montez with a voice of gold and the fiery dancer from the Gypsies of Granada, Carmen Samaniego. This signaled the beginning of a potentially premiere event.
The evening was getting seriously exciting as Paco wandered through the crowd smiling and stopping to chat with many that he knew both from work and growing up attending school. He sat and ate with Diehls owners, his bosses, Tahj & Paula Duchamp. Dancing briefly with the great Diva Gana Walska, who had summoned him with a little wag of her finger, he traded partners with Edwin Ballingford, owner of Il Brolino. Taking the very wealthy man’s magnificent young wife into his arms that began to quiver with nervousness, they danced the tango arousing a startling heat. Leaving her with a bow and a kiss of the hand as the music ended, he climbed into the sumptuous Gypsy Wagon where Mama Genet and Fayola, hilarity reigning, read his future in a polished crystal ball.
Moving next to the far side of the festivity, Paco spent a long while talking to Oren Star at Lora Knight’s table, with the group from Cima Del Mundo including Corliss, his old friend from High School, who was locked in intense conversation with the dapper looking Rennie. Seeing them brought back the horrendous image of the bodies twisted and crushed in the Hispano Suissa. It was amazing they were still alive. His face was flushed as he thought of Lillian and a little lump formed in his throat.
Miss Penny sauntered over and Oren, still using a cane since his miracle survival in the crash, quickly stood in greeting taking her hand with twinkling eyes. Paco moved on noticing William and Dorinda Bliss cheerfully socializing with the Hoffmans and an impressive group of architects including the imposing George Washington Smith and wife were talking to Mary Craig, now gaining prominence since the death of her famous partner and husband. Carlton Winslow was trading opinionated references to the current construction and difficulties for The Biltmore Hotel with Bertram Goodhue who was scowling bitterly.
Paco connected with Chef Victore, his prowling buddy, and the two talked a little, catching up on Forbidden Palace matters, and then found a bench where they lounged back sipping some potent daiquiris Sal had slipped to them under the bar.
The show was underway and weaving it’s magic spell over the Camp. At a bench not far away they could see a remarkable collection of guests surrounding a handsome young man, tonight commanding with his perfect mustache, dressed in black and straight brimmed equestrian hat. Paco recognized him from deliveries to Val Verde, his prime property now, with the help of Bertram Goodhue, under intense renovation. The man was the notorious Wright Ludington, heir to several fortunes. Gathered around him was a dazzling array of beautiful people. Paco recognized Ludington’s lady, Countess Louise, and his close associate Lockwood de Forest Jr. There was a bevy of platinum blond starlets with Merna Kennedy from Chaplin’s new movie, “The Circus”, drawing international attention. He also spied a little huddle of Chefs that he knew all too well, namely Piranhurst’s Fredo, Il Brolino’s Velly, Val Verde’s Printise Yonkopolis and surprisingly the Chauffeur from Cima del Mundo, Gunnar, looking extremely fit for falling fifty feet ending smashed under the massive automobile. Printise ambled over to Paco and Victore with a boozy gait and lit up a hand rolled cigarette inviting them to join in. Opening his case that appeared to be gold-plated with little rubies creating a monogram, he began deriding the other Chefs with grand fay gestures, especially concentrating on Fredo who picked up on the comments and loped over looking bizarre in a huge red cape with black mask and brimmed hat, a get-up that could be mistaken for a giant sized Zorro. An outright fight ensued until Wright Ludington himself stepped in to move them on and suddenly sat down next to Paco saying all in one long whiskey scented breath, “Who are you, what is your name, where have you been and where are you going?” Paco, playing the game replied, “I am Paco Oakley, I have been delivering your groceries and I am going to study art in Florence Italy”, folding his arms over his chest for emphasis. Ludington sat bolt upright, reaching into his vest pocket he pulled out a calling card and said, “Make an appointment so we can talk”. And with that he was gone, the last of his eccentric retinue following behind.
Turning the card over in his fingers he read the name and numbers. Thinking it smelled of providence, he safely stored it in his inside jacket pocket. Looking up now Corliss, her ruffled dress of many small white polka dots and lacy trim, dashed past him. He could clearly see she was sobbing, tears flowing and shawl dragging through the garden, seeming to be headed nowhere? Still amazed that she appeared to be unhurt in the crash, he arose automatically, this time pledging to himself, he would faithfully protect her.
Catching up he cradled her in his arms, flipping the shawl over his shoulder. He guided her toward the house and when they came upon the star fountain, bubbling away, he arranged the weeping girl on a long tiled stone seat. Sitting beside her she began to pour out all that had just happened. “Paco, you know that Rennie is a Count? Did you know his real name is Viscount Renford Combs Fitzroy? From Oxford, that’s England? His parents have come for him and he leaves on Tuesday.” She grabbed his collar and gently shook it. Then raping on his chest with her fists she cried helplessly, “But I love him. I will love him forever”. A sort of passionate little tantrum, enhanced by a few daiquiris, followed. He dried her tears with the Spanish Shawl and tenderly petted her lovely red-gold curls then lifted her chin up to look closely into her eyes. “You are so beautiful”, he said with such intelligence it made her stop and focus. “You will have such a fine life even right here at home.” Raising her to her feet he said, “come now I’ll take you home”. Finding the Indian behind a hedge near the mansion’s entrance, Paco tied Corliss to him with the shawl, taking off, a big fringe trimmed knot secured tightly over his stomach. After a short ride, she was home and he helped her to the door. “We must always be friends and never forget Lillian”, he said earnestly kissing her forehead as her eyes welled up again. “Where could she be?” Corliss wept, “She must be dead by now. So sad, so horribly sad”, she exhaled deeply feeling hopeless. “She lives, I think,” Paco whispered, as he opened the door and pushed her gingerly inside. He left quickly turning around only once to see her bewildered expression as she gave him a little kiss in the air and closed the door.
Planning to make some phone calls from Diehls he safely parked the Indian in it’s shed and unlocked the back door walking directly into his office. The store was empty and dark all except the small lamps glowing on the back bar of Salvador’s big soda fountain. It was almost ten when he called Paget at the fire station. They talked about Lillian and reviewed the many puzzling leads that now seem to have evaporated, lost like the beautiful woman herself and so painful to contemplate. Moving to the end of his desk, he began working on a pastel drawing of five gracefully composed fuzzy peaches, some with a pale crimson blush. He paused and picking up the phone made a call speaking slowly in a low voice.
Some time passed and the distinctive hum of her car stopping at the back door aroused Paco. Standing to meet her while removing his sweater he swiftly pulled her into him with eagerness, needing so much to delve into the pleasure she opened to him. He was compelled now; wanting so intensely to feel some satisfaction and hide from all the worldly pain that was closing in. Unbuttoning her silky white blouse and smiling wickedly she danced, twirling straight past him, heading for the giant marble soda fountain. Paco, laughing out loud, picked up two of the perfect peaches and followed her closely behind. They were now naked to the waist only wearing shades of tan belted jodhpurs and knee high boots, showing their beautifully formed bodies to one another with deep pleasure. He began to peel and slice the peaches as she searched out the ingredients needed to turn this outrageously sexy game into extreme bliss. He fed her a slice of sweet ripe peach and then ate one himself. They kissed deeply as he lifted her to the top of the counter and laying her out like a banquet he found Salvador’s rich vanilla ice cream. Placing a giant scoop into a silver sundae dish he unbuckled her belt and pulled the zipper down far enough to see her rounded form. There he started to dot her body with little spoonfuls of ice cream in a line that ended on the lips. Giving her the last bite he slowly licked up each dollop finishing at the zipper’s end. Moving to her breasts he gently circled each one in painterly swirls of smooth creamy caramel syrup using his finger as a brush then, thoroughly enjoying himself, he delicately sucked the sticky sauce away, twirling her nipples with his tongue.
She sat up and urged him to join her on the fountain top. As he lay down she slipped her leg over him and then settled, positioning herself right over him. Now it was his turn. She undid the buckle and unzipped a little way down so that she could see the lovely trail of dark curly hair disappearing below. She found Sal’s chocolate sauce, spiked with Italian Caffè Al Bicerin, some essence of roses and began writing “PACO” with little hearts on his well-muscled body in a narrow ribbon of syrup that she skillfully dripped from a spoon. Leaning over for a large ice-cold canister of whipping cream she made fluffy daubs that looked like pom-poms starting low and ending at the hollow in his top breastbone. Then feeding him a giant helping she took one for herself, kissing him ferociously, pressing all the cream between them. Heated now they proceeded taking turns licking up every bit, playfully teasing with little nips and tiny bites in tender places. Pulling off each other’s boots they were sitting on the counter with legs entwined facing each other. She found the cherries and tempting him she rolled the glossy dripping berry over his lips then traced little circles on his chest with her breasts. Now Paco was fully intoxicated by this erotic woman. He was so grateful. Now thoughts of his father and the beautiful Lillian were safely stored a million miles away on another planet.