Vincent Cleburne, silent film actor and big game hunter conquered women as easily as he hunted tigers in India. Now, Vincent has set his sights on the exquisite beauty, actress and man eater, Yolanda Dodson
During an outburst at a popular nightclub, Yolanda challenges him to hunt and kill a white leopard and bring her the pelt.
He readily agrees. But what Vincent doesn't realize when he gets to Nepal and begins his hunt, is that he will be marked by his quarry in ways that he never dreamed possible.
Patricia Snodgrass lives in rural North East Texas with her husband of twenty years, their son two dogs and three cats. She holds a Master’s Degree from Texas A&M University, Texarkana. Patricia has published three other works, “Mercer’s Bayou,” “Marilyn” and “Destiny’s Mark.” She also contributed text and research to two comic art books. She has written numerous short stories, essays and book reviews. Glorious is her first Mundania book.
Julia Meets the Indomitable Vincent Cleburne
July 7, 1969
“Good riddance, you pig!”
Julia Santos screamed at the departing tail lights of a 1965 Dodge Charger, red of course, which was the exact color of her face as her former lover did an impressive power slide on the beach, kicking up sand and ocean foam before the car bounded up past the board walk and toward the highway.
She dropped her bag just long enough to hurl a large piece of driftwood at the rapidly fleeing car. It bounced off the trunk with an angry thwacking sound. Tires smoking and squealing, the Charger took off down the highway and out of sight.
“Good, go and keep on going,” she shouted at the retreating vehicle. “I never want to see you again.”
“And don’t forget to take your bimbo with you,” She smoldered as she collected her things and stomped down the boardwalk to the nearest table. She plopped down, collected herself and waited for Vincent Cleburne to arrive. Just because I’m liberated doesn’t mean he can take liberties, she fumed. How dare he think that just because I have a good job and an apartment that he can just take over, not help pay the bills, sit all day in front of the TV and...and on top of everything bring some ratty chick into my house.
She could still see Raul, slouching on her couch, drinking her tequila, necking with some long-legged half-dressed tramp he’d found somewhere in the barrio. The bitch didn’t even have the decency to look shocked when I came in, Julia thought, her teeth grinding together. And Raul. Raul actually had to nerve to look smug.
Sure, he made a feeble attempt to make it right, but only because he knew he was about to lose his cash cow, she thought. Sometime after she stormed out of the apartment and started walking down to Muscle Beach, he must have realized that and came looking for her. He found her, of course, gave her a ride, but instead of the apology she was expecting all Julia got was “I don’t see what you’re so mad about, swinging is the thing now, man.”
Julia sat at the table, thinking about him, feeling her temper go critical mass.
He’d better have his shit out of my apartment and be gone by the time I get back, she thought. If he doesn’t, I’m going to toss everything he owns out the window then set it on fire.
In the meantime, I have to get myself together for this interview. The old man will arrive with the story everyone has been dying to hear for decades. I’m not letting Raul screw this up. This is the interview of a lifetime and I’m going to make this my very best. Who knows? It might even win an award.
Julia pulled a compact out of her canvas bag, and touched up her face. There, she thought as she applied a touch of lipstick, back to normal.
She put her makeup away just in time to see Vincent Cleburne himself walking along the surf towards her.
Of course it was impossible not to recognize him. He was as popular as Rudolf Valentino at one time, and as mysterious as Howard Hughes. Even her mother had his picture tucked into the bedroom mirror.
“Thank you for the interview, Mr. Cleburne,” Julia said belaying her inner agitation as the silent film star turned radio personality approached her table. “It really is an honor, seeing that you haven’t allowed anyone to interview you since the 1940’s.”
Vincent Cleburne, trim and tan, wearing a white suit and straw hat gave her a frank, appraising look. His eyes, partly shaded from the hat, were deep set and a striking blue, with golden flecks along the rim of the irises. He smiled, his lips lush and pink. His face was friendly, longish, and the only real tale-tell sign of his age were a few laugh lines delicately etching the corners of his eyes.
He tipped his hat, and she caught a glint of short cropped silver hair which glistened in the sun as he bent forward. He bowed gallantly and she blushed.
“And I am thrilled to meet you as well, Miss Santos,” Vincent smiled. “And you are correct. It’s been many years since I acquiesced to an interview.”
“It’s Ms. Santos, but please call me Julia,” She blushed as her ire at Raul vanished as quickly as his Dodge Charger’s receding taillights. “And delighted you’re granting me this opportunity.” She motioned to a wrought iron chair opposite her. “Please, won’t you sit down?”
Vincent smiled; his teeth as white as his shirt. “Thank you, I do believe I will,” he said as he snagged the chair and sat down.
Julia watched him as he settled. His face was distinguished and well chiseled. He even has a Kirk Douglas chin. She sighed. He looks just the way a silent film star should look, Julia thought, feeling her heart throb. Surely he hasn’t had a face lift. Should I ask? No, she thought I can’t ask him that. At least not yet, anyway. Even without that bit of information though, the interview itself will be great. My readers are going to love hearing his story, a girl can tell.
He smiled again and said, “My dear, if I were only twenty years younger.”
Julia laughed. “You mean you’re not?”
“I’m going to like you, I think,” Vincent replied, gesturing for the bistro’s waiter to join them. “You are such a pretty little thing. And a man gets to appreciate beauty in his later years.” His stare was frank but not intimidating, and Julia found herself blushing once again. “And you are interviewing me for...hum...let me see...” he contemplated for a second, then snapped his fingers, “Today’s Romantic Magazine. Am I correct?”
“Guilty as charged,” Julia agreed.
“And do you like what you do?” Vincent asked.
“Yes. Very much,” She paused briefly as the waiter arrived and took their orders. “I’ve wanted to write for them since I was a teenager.”
“Not too long ago, then, I see.”
Julia blanched. She misdirected his gaze by pulling out a stack of stenographer’s notebooks from a large orange canvas bag. She shifted in her patio seat. The chair was constructed out of the same black wrought iron as the café table and was as uncomfortable as sitting on a park bench. Mr. Cleburne, however, sat across from her perfectly relaxed, smiling as he sipped his drink. Julia felt her heart do an obscene little rumba.
My God, he’s 77 years old, she scolded herself. I don’t care how disarmingly charming he is, he’s older than abuelo.
Julia wiped her sweaty palms on the skirt of her orange and white sundress, praying he wouldn’t notice her discomfiture.
But of course he did notice, and he laughed good naturedly at her as he sipped a Mai Tai from a tall glistening glass.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you accepted my invitation,” Julia said.
“I never could refuse a beautiful woman,” he replied.
Ah yes, it was cliché, but it was a nice one, and something she expected from a silent film star. Julia found herself blushing again. “Well, let’s hop to it, shall we?” She placed two steno pads in front of her. She kept her questions and biographical notes on Mr. Cleburne in one, and the second one was for her to record his life story; especially that scandalous romance between him and Yolanda Dodson. And, she knew as she picked up her pen, it was gonna be some story.
“I can’t wait,” Cleburne said.
“You are one of the most famous silent film stars alive,” she said, hesitated, trying her best to ignore his penetrating gaze, and continued. “And although you’re not as rich as Howard Hughes, you certainly are just as reclusive.”
“Rich?” He frowned as he mulled the word over. “Rich...Oh my no, my dear. In fact, I’m quite poor.”
“But you were quite the ladies’ man back in the day,” Julia said, fumbling with her notes. “Which was expected. You were handsome, talented, charming,” she stuttered feeling herself melting again. She shook off the feeling and continued. “And you were a world class big game hunter. Everyone used to rave about your parties. People came from everywhere to see the latest big game trophy.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“But the real story is about the affair you had with Yolanda Dodson.”
“Affair?” Cleburne chuckled. “That implies that one or both of us were married and doing something naughty. Not that I didn’t try mind you.” He winked at her then, and she blushed. Pleased, his bright blue eyes glistened with merriment.
Julia laughed. “So there was no great Hollywood romance between you? That you didn’t try to kill the owner of the Cotton Club in a fit of jealousy?”
“Well, there was a romance, but it wasn’t quite the way I wanted it. And no, I didn’t try to kill anyone.” He frowned slightly, pondering. “Did I have an affair with Yolanda? Yes, I did. And sadly it was completely one-sided. Yolanda was in love with only herself.”
“But you did put up that huge billboard in Hollywood asking her to marry you,” Julia said.
Cleburne laughed. “Yes, I did indeed. Although that billboard has disintegrated and a hamburger stand sits there now. But yes, I have no reservation about how I felt about Yolanda. And in a way I suppose I love her still. Only the fires of youth have died down a bit, I still have a deep...regard...for her, even though things soured at the end of our relationship, such as it was.”
Cleburne demurred. “That’s at the end of my tale, and you’ll have to wait a bit to hear that.”
“And what about the death threat to the nightclub owner?
“Never happened. I never threatened to kill him or anyone else.”
“But there were witnesses.”
“Witnesses, yes, to me behaving like a jackass in public. And later me promising Yolanda I’d do a certain task for her. She—requested—something of me and I agreed to do it. I thought I was being chivalrous. I was her knight in shining armor sent to slay a dragon for my fair lady sort of thing.”
Cleburne regarded Julia. “You look disappointed my dear. Were you expecting those scandal sheets to be even remotely true?”
Julia frowned. “Maybe. So all the rumors stating you threatened a mob boss and had to go underground are just that?”
“But you became a recluse. You didn’t leave your estate for years. You never did another film or a radio show. You quit going on safaris. You simply dropped off the face of the earth.”
“Yes, that is indeed true,” Cleburne said. “I found after my last trip to Nepal that I cherished my privacy.”
“People said you were different after that trip,” Julia said, her anxiety fading away as she continued to speak. “Even your closest friends reported that your entire personality changed. That you even became a Buddhist.”
“True. All true.”
“What happened to change you so much, Mr. Cleburne? Did you find some kind of spiritual enlightenment up there?”
“No,” Cleburne replied, “Although I wish to God that I had. But I was too arrogant for any kind of spiritual awakening at that time.”
“So none of what Hollywood has been saying about you all these decades is true at all?” Julia said feeling keenly disappointed.
“No, not all of it.” He paused, pondering. “Yes, I did indeed love Yolanda. But Yolanda loved only one person; herself. And I was not much better. I hunted and bagged my bed partners and made trophies of them, just like I hunted and killed big game. It was the thrill of the hunt, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that Yolanda was also a huntress, and far better at it perhaps than I was.”
“That’s a pretty harsh assessment of yourself.”
He paused, considering. “It might seem that way, but in reality it’s not. Over the years that relationship changed and now we’re just good friends. But I have to say I still feel closer to her than to anyone else.” He squinted at the setting sun. “I’ve told her things...things I never ever told anyone, until today...” he whispered.
Julia hesitated. She hadn’t expected him to be like this at all. When she first agreed to take on the assignment, Julia believed she could take a no nonsense stance with Cleburne, to get him to confess what really happened between Yolanda and the nightclub owner.
But now, as she watched him gazing out at the surf, looking so lost, so vulnerable, she realized that taking a hard stance with him would be inappropriate. He’s really hurting, Julia thought, her heart reaching out to the older man. I can’t be as tough as the editor told me to be. I just can’t. It wouldn’t be right.
“Would you say she conquered or spurned you? Is she the reason why you became a recluse?” Julia asked gently.
Cleburne laughed. It was a wonderful rich baritone that echoed across the boardwalk and resonated along the tide line. He wiped his brow with a kerchief as white as his jacket. Tucking it neatly inside his pocket he said, “My, no. You’re still trying to fit in that nightclub incident with all those scandalous rumors about her and me and the mob. I chose my life of quiet solitude; no one drove me to it.”
“I didn’t mean to offend—”
He waved her aside. “Oh of course, you did not offend me.” He sipped his Mai Tai. “If you had I would have ended this interview at once. I’ve done that in the past, you know. I slammed my door in Eliza Lang’s face back in 1940.”
“It was scandalous.” Julia said. “I was half afraid you’d do the same to me.”
“If you had come at me with guns blazing, so to speak, I would have.”
So, Julia thought, I did the right thing after all.
Cleburne chuckled. He leaned forward conspiratorially. “It was a hoot. Eliza’s face actually turned purple. Her poisoned pen slandered me for months afterwards. I developed a deep distaste for gossip columnists after that.”
“I’m so glad you changed your mind...about gossip columnists, that is.”
“So am I.”
Cleburne smiled. Julia felt herself melting again. Good God, he’s still so sexy. Animal magnetism oozes out his very pores.
“And, I admit I am enjoying the view,” Cleburne was saying. “You’re far prettier than ugly old mule faced Eliza.”
“Thank you,” Julia stammered, feeling the heat in her face rise. “Let’s talk about your career,” she said, feeling unnerved and eager to get the interview going. She flipped through the notebook. “At one point you were nearly as popular as Rudolf Valentino,” she read.
“That’s nice of you to say, but I never quite made it as big as Rudolf did,” Cleburne said, ignoring her nervousness. “I was a leading man for several silent films, The Rogues, Shanghai Joe and my personal favorite, Love’s Silent Storm. He laughed. “I worked with the greats, though; Lillian Gish, as you mentioned earlier. You know them all: Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, and of course Yolanda Dodson.”
“Oh,” he added, pausing to light up a cigarette,” I did do well for myself in the silents, but like so many actors, I didn’t make the transition to talkies. Even though I had the voice of Clark Gable, my acting just didn’t work.”
He sighed. “It was that melodramatic way we were taught for silent pictures. It looked ridiculous on the talkies.” He blew smoke out of his nose thoughtfully.
“Is that what killed your career?”
“It didn’t kill my career entirely, not like it did many others. I found work as a cartoon actor for a while. Then I moved to Chicago and did radio for WGN, and I even did some television in the very beginning. But I found that television didn’t agree with me. I had made a comfortable sum of money over the years and so I decided to retire.”
“And that’s it?” Julie asked, crestfallen. “My readers will be very disappointed in such a mundane reason to quit the business.”
“Well, you can tell your readers it was indeed more than just a mundane retirement.”
“Yes, really.” Claiborne snuffed out his cigarette, took out a heavy plated gold cigarette case and opening it, offered one to her.
“No thank you,” Julia said, surprised that she could turn him down for anything, “I don’t smoke.”
“Good for you, young lady,” Claiborne approved, taking out a cigarette and snapping the case shut. “It’s a terrible habit, and pardon me for being a bit old fashioned, I always believed it was uncouth uncouth for ladies to smoke. You must forgive me; it’s a part of my southern upbringing.”
“I heard you were a real southern gentleman,” Julia said. “I may consider myself liberated, but I always loved chivalry.” Her mind turned to Raul. “Sadly the breed seems to be disappearing.”
“Well, we haven’t entirely become extinct yet,” Vincent smiled. “And I wasn’t always so gentlemanly, as you will soon see.”
“I understand that Yolanda Dodson didn’t. Smoke that is.” Julia said, trying hard to stay on topic.
“There were pictures showing that she did, but I think that was only for publicity. She never smoked privately. She was convinced it caused wrinkles.”
“I believe she might be right,” Julia said with a laugh.
“If you want to talk about Erica Johnston—now that was an old broad who smoked like a rendering plant.” He tapped the filter of his Benson and Hedges, placing it to his lips, lit it with a large brass lighter. “But then again, she was no lady, either.”
“You look embarrassed. You needn’t be. Consider us friends sitting here chatting underneath this awning on a lovely afternoon.” He pointed toward a group of kids clumped together near the shoreline. Above them, a squall of seagulls careened and soared, uttering greedy cries while the boys below them laughed and tossed food from an orange plastic bag up to them.
“Yes, I see them.”
“They’re feeding those things cheesy chips,” he said, leaning forward again. “I’ve been watching them for some time now.” He grinned again, and added, “Do you know what happens when you feed cheesy chips to seagulls?”
“You get fat seagulls?” Julia asked.
Just as Vincent was about to answer, one of the kids shouted, the others burst into hysterical laughter. The boy who cried out dashed into the surf with orange goop dripping from his hair and down his back.
“They get chronic orange diarrhea,” Vincent replied. “The gulls, mind you; not the kids.”
Julia covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. g “You’re terrible.”
“I’m old and that entitles me to say what I like,” Vincent said affably.
“I understand that Yolanda is making another movie.”
“Ah, yes, I called Yolanda and wished her the best with her new film. At our age,” he added, “it’s not a good idea to wish anyone a broken leg.”
Julia laughed outright. “You are so funny.”
“So, lovely Miss Julia, you met with me today because you wanted to find out what Eliza couldn’t drag out of me: that tragic love story that sent me to my ruin.” He leaned back in his seat, crossed his legs, and blew smoke out of his nose. It was a thoughtful pose, as if he were considering the weight of the woes of the world.
Once again, he waved her aside.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” he said, ignoring her protest. “I’ll tell you everything, but I promise you that it is a difficult journey, and most of it you probably—no, I know—you won’t believe. But it’s all true, every single word of it.”
“Are you gay?” she whispered.
Now Vincent laughed, deeply and heartily.
“Oh my dear girl, no. Certainly not. Eliza started that rumor herself, after I slammed the door in her face.” He emptied his drink, and as he did so a waiter appeared as if the older man conjured him out of thin air. The waiter replaced their empty glasses with fresh drinks.
“I’m not gay.”
“Then there was someone else, another woman I mean,” Julia said.
“Oh my yes,” Vincent agreed. “She was unlike any other woman on the face of the Earth. And I loved her passionately...and foolishly.” He gazed out over the surf, his eyes unfocused as he looked backwards in time. Julia felt her heart thudding in her ears. Another woman? A secret love? Who could it have been?
“But it wasn’t Yolanda?” she asked tentatively.
“You’re still in love with her too, I can tell,” Julia said.
“Guilty on all charges.”
“Then what happened?” Julia asked, her pen forgotten as she leaned forward, her chin propped up delicately on her clasped hands.
Julia watched Vincent as he gazed out over the ocean. She saw his eyes seem to unfocus as he watched children splashing happily in the surf. Concerned, Julia reached out and placed her hand over his.
“If I tell you—when I tell you, because I assure you I shall—I want you to know that these aren’t the ramblings of a senile old man.”
“I’m not here to pass judgment.”
Vincent looked down at their clasped hands. He sighed; placed his left hand atop hers, then added, “It is true, that after thirty-five years, the memory fades like an old photograph from long ago. But the grain, the essence, the concept is still as sharp and as painful as if it happened a few days ago. And yes, it sent me into hermitage. I can admit that now. After what happened, after what I did, what I became, I couldn’t see any other recourse.”
He released her hands, shifted in his seat, snuffed out his cigarette, and drained his Mai Tai. The waiter reappeared with a fresh glass. Julia followed his gaze out toward the surf, at the deep blue-green water that rolled itself onto the shore. Children ran up and down the beach, dogs happily yipping alongside them as they flew past. Among the waves, intrepid teenagers on boogie boards braved the swells, their bodies rising and falling with the tides.
Along the boardwalk lovers passed the little bistro, walking arm and arm as they window shopped. Girls in bright paisley sundresses, or skinny bikinis strode slowly toward the beach, giggling at narcissistic muscle men who posed before a flagrantly gay photographer.
“It is a beautiful day, “Vincent said. “I have a feeling I won’t be having many beautiful days left.”
His voice was far away, deeply resonant with nostalgia and loss. His face held a secret yearning and wistfulness that made a lump of empathy form in Julia’s throat.
“No, no, don’t worry about me, dear.” He said, reaching out and patting her hand. “It’s okay.” He smiled, but this time so wistfully that it made Julia’s heart ache.
“Tell me what happened?” she whispered.
“Yes, it’s time. In fact, I’m even compelled to, like that old sailor who was forced to confess to the wedding guest in that long winded poem by Coleridge. And that compulsion is coupled with a dull consistent ache that I’ve learned to live with. But now...now...But before I tell you about the love of my life, the love that I left the world for let me tell you what happened before that. Back in a time when the world was young and so was I...”