Recently, the group of writers responsible for publishing my “Suburban Zombie” short story, put together another anthology: This time the anthology was titled Stardust.
I came up with an interesting idea but the idea just kept sounding too close to “Boys from Brazil”. So I didn’t submit it. Here it is in it’s rough form.
A well-dressed old woman sat unescorted at the back of a small dark Hollywood amateur theatre. Only twenty or so people were scattered throughout the audience to watch the cabaret acts perform. The first act was a young plain twelve-year-old girl, dressed as Marilyn Munroe, singing ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’. It was dreadful. She was off key, distant, and far too sexually explicit for a child. Half of the scant audience left the theatre then and there. The following acts included a boy of about the same age doing a Marlin Brando impersonation from ‘A streetcar named desire’ (Granted, the boy was a dead ringer for Brando but he struggled remembering his lines) and finally a child Charlie Chaplin impersonator that was dreadful. The slapstick humour had been stolen and copied too many times. The old woman stood up, and with a tear running down her cheek slowly made her way out of the theatre.
Strands of greasy hair hung down into her pretty eyes as she climbed the staircase to her apartment. It had been another long tiring day in Daphne Droga’s twenty seven years of life. She carried bags of groceries in both hands, making it impossible to wipe the hair from her eyes. Daphne gasped for breath as she shifted the grocery bags onto her forearm and reached for her house keys. She climbed the last few stairs leading to her apartment and noticed that the door was slightly ajar.
Her heart beat faster as Daphne nervously pushed the door open and peered inside. Her apartment looked like an upended garbage bin. Her clothes strewn across the floor, the drawers pulled out of every cupboard.
Daphne fell to her knees and cried. Why her home, when there were so many wealthy people living in Hollywood? She was far too young to have such a shitty life. The only thing that gave her any solace was the knowledge that there was little of value to be taken.
What if the people who had done this were still inside?
She stood, leaving her groceries on the floor and slowly made her way across her living room. When she reached her mantle piece she picked up an large wooden urn that contained the dust from both her mother and her grandmother. It made a sturdy if slightly clumsy weapon. She caught a glimpse of her own reflection in a mirror; under the unkempt exterior she still saw the pretty features.
It took only moments to check the rest of her small apartment. The intruders had been very thorough, rummaging through everything she owned. But as far as she could tell nothing was missing. She quickly bolted the door. She picked up the phone then looked at the small tattoo of a wave on her forearm, WATER.
Daphne swore that she would never again call Doyle, it hurt too much. She reached for the phone, but stopped herself. She still loved him more than she had ever loved anyone. But there was something about the two of them together. They just didn’t get on, OIL and WATER. He had a tattoo of an oilcan on his forearm, OIL. With tears in her eyes she picked up the phone but not to call Doyle, to call the police. As she sat waiting for the police to arrive she felt totally violated, the anger started to boil deep inside her.
“Why me, why does all of this shit have to happen to me?” She said.
She wanted to find the bastards who had invaded her home and damaged her things. Daphne had suffered so much recently, her health failing, sickness forcing her to close her business, the only type of work she knew how to do. Then trying desperately to hold on to her meagre possessions. She wanted the bastards who ransacked her apartment to suffer as she did.
The Police came and went, as did any hope of finding those responsible.
Daphne set about the process of tidying up. She was no stranger to this task; she had spent her whole life tidying up. Her Grandmother started a cleaning business just after the Second World War. Nanna, an Italian immigrant, had slowly acquired the cleaning duties for many of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities. A business that Daphne’s Mother took over and that was eventually left to Daphne.
Unfortunately, cleaning was hard physical work and the toxic chemicals involved had damaged Daphne’s health. The fumes from the oven cleaning products she used had virtually stripped her lungs. She was forced into early retirement. Daphne had little to show for her years of toil. Almost everything she owned, even her modest house had been sold to pay for medical expenses. Now she was left with little more than memories. If she were to walk into the Academy Awards Presentation many of the Stars would know her by name. But you can’t take that to the bank. Once she had hundreds of pieces of signed memorabilia. She had sold most of the valuable items. A letter from Charlie Chaplin to her Grandmother, some movie props from the set of The Wizard of Oz given to her mother by Judy Garland and a coffee table that once belonged to Tyrone Power. They had fetched little more than one third of their estimated value.
Now her only memorabilia of her family’s cleaning business was inside her own head. She remembered her mother telling her stories about being hugged by Marilyn Monroe and having her hand shaken by Clarke Gable and John Huston. Daphne herself, remembered playing hide and seek as a five year old with an eight year old Drew Barrymore. Her family cleaned for the Barrymore’s for three generations. If any of the celebrities she had worked for knew of her predicament they would gladly have helped her out, but she was not one to beg.
There was one more thing that Daphne still held onto from her families cleaning business. Unfortunately it was relatively worthless. Her Stardust: From the moment Daphne’s Grandmother had started her business she collected samples of dust from the bedroom floors of her famous celebrity clientele. It was a silly tradition but it was one that both Daphne and her mother continued. Daphne owned over five hundred small glass vials containing the dust from the floor of the world’s most famous stars. Each vile had a small signed and hand written label. Katherine Hepburn 1963, Lionel Barrymore 1951, Bella Lugosi 1950… Some of the dust dated as far back as the late forties.
After finishing cleaning up, Daphne made her way down the stairs from her apartment. She had very little money but she refused to give up coffee. It was her little thing. Some people smoked, some drank, with her it was espresso bought from a good café and it just so happened that there was such a café three doors up from her apartment building. That was where she was heading when a white van screeched to a halt at the curb, the side door slid open and two burly thugs pointed a gun at her.
At first Daphne was surprised but then she slightly stiffened as she continued to walk down the street. It wasn’t that she welcomed death; it was more like arrogance and not wanting to let anyone push her around. The two thugs looked at each other not knowing what to do next. The van screeched forward to catch up to Daphne and the thugs jumped out trying to drag Daphne into the back of the vehicle. She launched at the thug who had hold of her clawing her long fingernails into his eyelids. It was the first time she had grown her fingernails long in years, when she was cleaning they just broke off. The thug’s eyes blinked shut just at the last second, saving his eyes from permanent damage. Then, when his grip on her blouse softened she broke free and ran like hell, her eyes half shut waiting for a gunshot. But they didn’t fire. As she ran up the small flight of stairs into the café she heard the wheels of the van screech off.
Daphne stood in the doorway of the café waiting for someone to come to her aid, to say something, waiting for someone to acknowledge what had just happened. But they were in their own little worlds, they spoke about the cost of rent, one woman’s croissant was burnt, no one had seen the attempted abduction. Shaken, she sat in her usual seat and ordered her usual coffee. She wanted to cry again but stopped herself. Daphne pulled the cell phone from her pocket and called a number. It seemed to ring forever.
“Hello.” Answered an easygoing male voice.
“Doyle.” She said quietly.
“Who’s this? Daphne is that you?” He asked.
“Yes, it’s me.” She replied. “I… I’m sorry to call but I really need your help.”
“Babe, you can call me anytime. You broke up with me, remember.” He said.
“Yeah, I remember. Can you meet me?” She asked.
“When? I’m kind of busy right now, I’ve…” She cut him off.
“Right now, right fucking now, please I need you to meet me right now.” Several of the people in the café were looking at her. Great She thought you’re all concerned when I raise my voice on the phone but you don’t lift an eyebrow when two psychopaths with a gun try and drag me into a van.
“I need you to meet me at Café OM now. Please.” She begged.
“I’ll be there in five.” He said as he hung up the phone.
He looked good when he walked into the café, better than she remembered. Daphne on the other hand was still wearing the same clothes she was wearing when she discovered her home had been broken into. She felt filthy. He kissed her gently on the cheek and she could smell the cologne she bought for him a couple of years ago.
“You look good.” He said beating her to the punch. They both ordered coffees and Daphne told him of the robbery and the abduction attempt.
“They weren’t wearing masks or anything, they didn’t even attempt to hide their faces.” She said. “Why me? I just don’t get it.”
Just for a second Daphne could have sworn Doyle gave her a sheepish look. Maybe she was reading too much into it.
“They must want something or they wouldn’t have trashed my room like that.”
“I missed you.” He said.
“There you go changing the subject, I hate it when you do that. You’re always changing the subject. I’m in serious shit here. Are you going to help me or not?” The agitation caused her to cough three times. Doyle handed her a glass of water.
“You OK? Your cough is much better than it was.”
Still a bit wheezy she said. “It’s getting better, doctor thinks I’ll make a full recovery.”
“Will you ever be able to go back to cleaning?”
They finished their coffees and Doyle walked Daphne back towards her apartment. They were both lost in their own thoughts when the van mounted the curb. This time the two thugs were well prepared and Daphne was inside the back of the van in seconds. Doyle didn’t need any more persuasion than the gun that was pointed at his face. He quietly stepped into the van.
Daphne was manhandled into an old warehouse with polished concrete floors and sleek minimalistic interior design. It may have once been a place of hard work but now it was just a big office. There was very little furniture but the high walls were covered with hundreds of framed signed photographs of Hollywood Stars. From all eras, from all genres, hundreds of ten by eight photographs. Daphne couldn’t help but wonder how much work it would be to keep all those pictures clean. Jake and Daphne were thrown roughly onto the concrete. In front of them stood a man, a mere five feet in height but he had enormous presence.
“Now that is no way to treat our guests.” He said to one of the Thugs. “Can I get you a beverage or something to eat my dear?” He asked Daphne.
Daphne stood up. “I don’t suppose you’d know anything about my apartment being ransacked today, would you?” She desperately wanted to kick him in the balls but she was pretty sure that she would come out the worse if she did.
“I see, straight to business then.” He paused. “Last year a team of Indian Geneticists managed to identify human DNA in common household dust.
My team achieved this over five years ago. We have since moved on. You see, household dust is made up in a large part from fragments of human skin. We can now not only isolate the human DNA genetic code from dust, but we are on the brink of using this code in the cloning process.”
Daphne wasn’t sure if she believed or even understood any of what was said but now she did understand her involvement and the importance these people put on her vials of Stardust.
“I see recognition on your face my dear. You now understand how your samples of dust might be of interest to me.” He said. “Your vials hold the DNA of perhaps hundreds of famous individuals. Alone the vial from Marilyn Monroe’s home has captured my imagination. It was taken at the very time she was having an affair with John F Kennedy, was it not?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “Who knows how many DNA samples are contained in that single vial your Grandmother collected all those years ago. Imagine what we might create. Imagine the possibilities.”
“How do you know about my Grandmother? How do you even know about my Stardust?” She asked. “That my dear, is for me to know.” He said this quietly, almost dismissively. His mind was clearly somewhere else. But it was the look that he flashed at Doyle that made her blood run cold. They knew each other.
“Charlie Chaplin, Marlin Brando, Katherine Hepburn… imagine them reborn, if you will. The greatest filmmakers of all time growing up together, already knowing their inherent strengths. With the right channelling who knows what greatness they might create.” His mouth was slightly ajar. Daphne could see the drool trying to escape from his bottom lip.
“So it’s about money?” She asked.
“You stupid woman. I have already created the most significant breakthroughs in DNA identification the World has ever seen. I already have a blank chequebook. It is about the possibilities. No, no, it’s not even that. It’s about playing God. Instead of merely collecting autographs from Stars, I can be their mentor, their father if you like. I can own them. How could a common cleaner possibly understand? You’ve spent your whole life cleaning up after people.” He almost spat the words in her face.
“Cleaning up after people you get a pretty good eye for spotting rubbish.” She said.
Doyle stepped forward, but the thug’s anticipated this. “You promised.” He said pathetically.
“You know this creep?” She had already connected the short man and Doyle in her head but had not wanted to believe it.
“I told him about your stardust. I thought you might get enough money for it to… to get better.”
“Touching. Now Ms Droga, I will ask you one and only time. Where are my vials of dust?”
“The only dirt you’re going to get is the stuff under my fingernails.”
She saw the fury rise within him and then subside just as quickly. “Come, come Ms Droga… Daphne. A few valueless vials of dust in exchange for your worthless life, for your friend’s life. That is a bargain you won’t find on eBay.” She had to smile at this, she had tried to sell two of the vials of dust on eBay but had not even nearly reached her reserve. Each vial had the original signature of the Star to whom the dust belonged. A Marilyn Monroe signature should have been worth a few thousand dollars at the very least.
With a nod of his head one of his thugs walked over to Daphne and put a gun to her head. Daphne felt so tired. Everything had been taken from her. First her youth as she toiled cleaning other peoples homes, with her youth went her beauty and her health; now the only worthless possessions she had in the world. To her they were more than simply vials of dust, they were a precious personal gift given to her by her mother and Grandmother. They were a reminder of when life was much better. When she had had the respect of some of the most famous individuals in the world, when she was successful, when she was the cleaner to the stars. In truth, she welcomed death. She longed not to be sick any more. She just wanted to join her Grandmother and her Mother in the afterlife and leave this sick fucker to his evil science.
“Go and fuck yourself little man.” She said spitting in the Thug’s face. She surprised herself because swearing was not something she usually lowered herself to.
At first the Thug didn’t know how to react, but then his bully nature took over and he raised his gun with the purpose of striking her across the face. But the smaller man stopped him. “It’s dust from the floor and you are willing to die for this?” The veins on his forehead started to pop out.
“I will pay you four thousand dollars for each vial.” He said angrily. “And I am a man of my word.”
“You do know that there’s over five hundred vials?”
She was dreadful at Math, but she did the sums anyway. Two hundred grand, two hundred grand, I’d be rich. Or is it only twenty grand? Na I think it’s more than that. I’d be set. All my debts would be gone. I could finish my treatment and get my life back on track.
Like all good deals, she knew that there’d have to be a catch. And at the moment the biggest catch seemed to be that they were pointing a gun at her head.
“Five grand each. Some of the signatures alone are worth more than that.” She said trying to hide her enthusiasm. She fully expected a bullet in the head when she told them where to find the vials anyway, but it was a glimmer of colour in her dark grey life.
The small man was even worse than Daphne at concealing his feelings. He almost bounced across the room to shake her hand.
“Five thousand dollars per vial. We have a deal.” He shrieked.
Doyle and Daphne walked towards her apartment still waiting for the sound of a gunshot to ring out but they walked into the foyer unharmed. The suitcase would probably explode she thought.
“Far out man, far out. Did that just happen. Were we just kidnapped and beaten up and stuff?” Doyle said.
“We were hardly beaten up.” She scorned. Her head was spinning. Why hadn’t he just knocked on her door and offered her the money, she would have surely taken it. Why the whole kidnapping thing? But she knew the answer. If she had had some emotional connection to the stardust he would have killed them both to get it.
“Man, I’m so sorry. I was just doing some concrete rendering work on his building and he started bragging about DNA and dust and I told him about your stardust. Then he started getting creepy on me. I didn’t know he was going to abduct us or anything.” He knew that he had burnt his bridges with Daphne for the last time. “Man, you’re rich. What are you going to do with all that money?” He said.
“By the time I pay off my bills and finish my treatment there’ll be a big dent in all that.” She was curt with him as she unlocked the door to her apartment.
“Yeah I guess two and a half million dollars doesn’t go far anymore.”
“How much?” She asked as she reached for the urn on her mantle piece. It contained 500 small vials of dust.
As the old lady made her exit from the cabaret theatre she spoke softly to herself. “My babies, my beautiful babies.” And then she cried. Daphne was in her mid thirties when she sold the stardust, she was now seventy.
Any feedback would be appreciated.