I was sitting on the sand at Manhattan Beach just before sunset when I turned my head and discovered Clark Gable sitting right beside me. He looked about thirty-five, mustache in place, and he was staring out to sea.
“That’s when I grew it,” he said. “When I was thirty-five. No mustache in Mutiny, but you’ll see it in San Francisco and Saratoga.”
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“Same thing as you. Nothing,” he said. “I come down sometimes. To get away from the crowds, the incessant yakking.”
“Down from heaven?” I said.
“Down from Forest Lawn,” he said. “It can be a madhouse up there. Too many stars. Too many fans. Bad combination.”
I looked away and then back. He was still there. I’ve got ghosts of my own on Manhattan Beach. From my wasted youth. Nothing like this, though.
“Are the Forest Lawn jumps still there?”
“They are indeed,” Gable said. “That kind of noise I can appreciate… I was born in Cadiz. Maybe they should have planted me back there.”
“Cadiz, Ohio. Tiny little place. Still tiny. But nah, I’d go crazy there. Too quiet. Forest Lawn is the place for me. Or that cemetery up in Altadena. They film so many funerals up there, it’s hardly fit for fresh graves anymore. They’ve built a morgue set next to it. ”
“Well, it’s quiet here,” I said. The day had been chilly and the beach was mostly deserted. As we watched, the sun dropped below the cloud layer out on the horizon and sat orange on the edge of the water.
“Nice,” Gable said.
“So now I’m the one deals with the yakking.”
“Hey! I’ll move.”
“No, wait,” I said. “I work in the industry. I’ve got a couple of questions for you.”
“Hell, everybody I know is dead. Save your breath. You could use some help, but not from me. You always sit out here with puke down your front?”
“I drank something or smoked something or popped something or snorted something that didn’t agree with me,” I said.
“No wonder you can see me. Where they going to bury you?”
“I have no idea. Where, or who.”
“Then if I were you, I’d try a little harder to stay alive.”
“I’m tapped out. I’m writing a script for Kevin Costner. It’s supposed to be a romance. Him and some hot young star. Not his idea, but a guy I know swears he can sell it to him. It’s sort of Juno meets Gran Torino. He says get off my lawn and she says get on my rug. Irreverent.”
Gable rolled his eyes.
“I was in something like that once,” he said. “It was called Teacher’s Pet. I’m a hardened old reporter and I take a journalism class taught by Doris Day. I felt sorry for her at the time.”
“Because she was young and had to clinch with a geezer?”
“That, but also I could tell she was the type that could be abused by her mate, which is what happened to her, the poor mutt.”
“She was my type, Doris was,” I said. “What about you?”
“My type was Marilyn, but working with her that last time… I think that’s what killed me.”
The sun was gone then, and so was Clark.