The Trey’O’Hearts

June 28, 2009

The letter formally requested the annulment of the marriage of Peter Edward and Rachel Vincent.

Peter Edward Vincent couldn’t bring himself to read it, still. The highballs after lunch were meant to stiffen his resolve, to the point where he could go through the petition, accept its contents and contact his attorney. It hadn’t happened that way.

Vincent sat in his favourite armchair, in the downtown apartment he now called home. A decanter of whiskey and an ashtray stood on the small table beside him. Also, a few sundry bills, a copy of the Los Angeles Morning Sun and Rachel’s letter, which he had stuffed back into its envelope,.

Vincent added his half-full tumbler to the collection of items on the table. He pulled himself to his feet and shuffled into the bathroom. He needed to get ready to meet Brady from Universal Studios.  With nothing better to do that day, Vincent had hit upon the idea of watching one of his old films down at the Universal lot. He’d asked Brady to find him a print of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’.

Dully, Vincent remembered that he had missed his appointment at the barber’s that afternoon, choosing to take a nap, instead. It didn’t matter – he was perfectly capable of shaving himself.

Carefully, he stripped the light stubble from his face with his cut-throat, thinking about ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’. The book itself had not been great, he knew that. Because of the time pressure they’d heaped upon him. If he’d had longer – but it didn’t matter.

They’d loved the idea at Universal. Just on the strength of the outline plot, they said they could make it into a movie series. After that, the wheels were in motion so quickly. We’ve got a new star in the making, they’d said – Cleo Madison. She would be perfect to play the twin sister heroines.

What a beauty she was, Cleo. What a woman.

Vincent nicked himself and winced. Washing the last lather off his face, he watched a little of his blood disappear down the sink, along with his stubble, soap and water.

He towelled off and opened the bathroom cabinet, picking out a bottle of benzene after-shave. He removed the stopper and was about to apply some when the telephone rang. Cursing, he moved back through to the drawing room and placed the after-shave on the table, reaching the phone on the fifth ring.

“Vincent.”

“Mr Vincent, it’s Brady here.”

“Brady, old man.”

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. It’s the film. I can’t find a print of it anywhere here.”

“You can’t?”

“No, it’s the darnedest thing. We have a storage facility for some of the old silents, but I’ve been down there and we don’t have it catalogued.”

“You have storage – for some of the films?”

Brady coughed.

“Excuse me. Yes, Mr Vincent, that’s right. Unfortunately, the sheer number of films we made – I mean, we’re going back over 20 years, here. We couldn’t keep them all -”

“I understand”, said Vincent, coldly. “That’ll be all, Mr Brady.”

“I’m sorry -”

“Good evening”, snapped Vincent. He banged down the receiver.

His film was lost.

He paced around the room, trying to remember – the premiere of the first instalment. How excited Rachel had been to be there with him, Peter Edward Vincent, a writer for the movies. Meeting Cleo Madison – the party at Henry McRae’s place, when he’d told Cleo that he was going to write the perfect character for her. Together, they could do something much more important than this melodramatic nonsense.  She was too good for that –

He stared at a framed poster for ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’, which adorned his wall.

In the drawer of the desk in his study, he found the signed portrait of Cleo and a miniature packet of playing cards. Universal had made them to promote the series. He sipped his whisky, then opened the pack, carelessly strewing the cards across his desk.

He read the packet.

“A film of exceptional drawing power – ONE LONG THRILL!”

Universal had ditched it, just like the rest of the detritus from the silent age.

Vincent picked out a copy of the ‘Trey’O’Hearts’ novel from the bookshelf and returned to his armchair. He refilled his tumbler, lit a cigarette. He started to read, but through the mists of the whiskey, which was on top of him by now, he found it impossible to concentrate on the words.

By the time he had stuttered through the opening chapter and moved onto the second, he was upset with the language, with the creaky, jerky way he had moved the plot on. He had been young, but not that young. The primary-colour, babyish way in which he introduced the characters of the ‘bad’ twin sister, Judith, and her twisted old father, Pa Trine – he frowned. This was juvenilia, nothing but juvenilia. No better than ‘The Lone Wolf’.

Before long, he had given up on reading. The book lay open in his lap, but he was just drinking. Smoking, he ran through the plot of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’ in his mind. The way he had raced to Universal with the fresh idea. Fool that he was. If he’d written the damn novel first, it could have been – but no, he had to go and give it to those philistines, for a few stinking dollars.

He pictured the twin sisters – of course, Rose, the ‘good’ twin sister, had been Rachel – or so he’d thought.

At the close of the book, the protagonist, Alan May, awoke to find Rose standing over him – May had thought that she was dead. Only it wasn’t Rose. It was her twin sister, Judith; turned from bad to good, she had fallen in love with Alan and was ready to atone for all the wrongs she had done to him.

Vincent wished it could happen to him. Let me wake up tomorrow with Rachel standing over me, in love with me again. Only not Rachel. He laughed bitterly. No, not Rachel. Just someone who looks like her. Not that cold-hearted bitch –

In a moment, he had hurled the hardbacked copy of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’ towards the table. It strck the open bottle of after-shave, which fell to the ground, chugging its contents out onto the carpet in great gulps.

Thank God for that, thought Vincent, laughing.

It could have been the whiskey.

Vincent carefully placed his still-lit cigarette in the ashtray. The heavy bottle was unbroken. He picked it up and returned it to the bathroom cabinet. Then he selected a towel and moved back into the drawing room, to mop up the spillage.

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