By H. P. Oliver
2015 HPO Productions
All Rights Reserved
4:45 P.M. – Monday – August 5, 1940
Bette Davis Residence – 5346 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood
Next stop, Miss Davis's digs at 5346 Franklin Avenue. Franklin is a major east-west thoroughfare that runs along the southern edge of the Hollywood hills, and as streets in Los Angeles go, there's nothing about Franklin that makes it particularly attractive as a street to live on. In fact, the way things have been going lately, it becomes less attractive on a daily basis. Heavy automobile traffic dodges around the Pacific Electric Red Line streetcars rattling back and forth under a jungle of utility wires so thick you can hardly see the sky. Add to that all the apartment complexes and commercial businesses springing up and Franklin's greatest benefit becomes providing a route to somewhere else. That made me wonder why Miss Bette Davis, who could live pretty much anywhere she wanted, moved here from swanky Beverly Hills.
I became even more curious about that when I got to 5346. What I found was a tropical jungle so thick the actual house wasn't even visible from the street. The buildings—it turned out there were two, a large home and a cottage—were set well back from the street at the end of a long driveway down the right edge of the property.
Since there were no signs telling me to go away, I drove into a primeval forest full of exotic trees and shrubs. The only flora I recognized were some Italian cypress and maybe a camphor tree or two. Otherwise I might just as well have been transported to deepest, darkest Africa or wherever such trees grow.
I pulled into a guest parking area in front of the larger building, a simple tan structure with dark brown trim and a raised front porch, and shut off the Chrysler's engine. As I sat there listening to the popping and creaking noises my engine made as it cooled, nothing in the virtually primordial scene around me moved. Nobody inside the house peeked out a window or opened the door to see who was invading their privacy.
I was within a hundred feet of a major Los Angeles thoroughfare, and yet I might just as well have been a million miles from civilization. The effect was so complete I actually felt a couple of hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Easy, Spicer. Big–time Hollywood gumshoes don't quake and quiver just because they can't hear any traffic going by.
On that note I stepped down from my car and walked to the house. I climbed the porch steps and gave the door a knock. Something that sounded like a dry twig snapped behind me and as I turned, the door opened and something with a point on it shot past me about a foot in front of my nose. Even though I didn't see it, I know it had a sharp point because it embedded itself in the doorframe as I dove through the opening, knocking a balding, red-faced man flat on his caboose as I did so.
The red-faced man let out a yelp, more twig-snapping noises came from the yard, and I rolled over to kick the door shut as protection against . . . what? There was nobody out there, at least nobody I could see, and the twig-snapping sounds were growing more distant. That's when Lillian Bouvier decided to show up.
"Mister Spicer! What on earth . . . ."
"Hello, Lilly. Lend me a hand helping this gentleman up, and then it might be a good idea if you introduced us."
After we got the fellow back on his feet and learned against the foyer wall because he was looking none too stable, Lilly said, "Henry, this is Mister Johnny Spicer, a private detective Madam hired to look into the robbery. Mister Spicer, this is Henry Gough, Madam's butler."
Gough looked at me disapprovingly. "I must say, Mister Spicer, you do have a rather dramatic way of entering a home."
Lilly added, "Yes, Mister Spicer. What was that all about?"
Stepping out the still open front door, I pulled the little dart out of the doorframe and held it up. "It was all about this."
We all stared at the projectile for a moment before Lilly said, "What in heaven's name is it?"
The dart was about an inch-and-a-half long with tiny white feathers like an arrow might have at the back and a nasty looking needle at the other end. The needle had something orange on its tip, which of course had to be curare or some other exotic poison.
I said, "Unless I'm way off base, this is a blowgun dart. It was fired or blown or whatever one calls it at us from out there in the front yard somewhere. I heard the guy, but never saw him."
Frowning, Henry said, "A blowgun!? Who would shoot such a thing at us?"
"That's one of the things I intend to find out. Another would be why. Henry, would you please find a paper envelope for this ugly little dart so I can safely carry it to an expert on such things?"
Henry disappeared down a hallway and returned a moment later carrying a standard-sized business envelope. "Will this do, sir?"
As I dropped the dart into the envelope, Henry said, "I'm curious, sir. Where does one find an expert on blowguns? Surely they aren't listed in the telephone directory business section."
So as not to appear incompetent, I lied through my teeth. "Oh, I know a fellow here in town who is widely versed in primitive weapons. I'm sure he'll have some answers for us." Quickly changing the subject, I added, "Now, if you don't mind, let's get on with the business at hand. Can you show me the display case from which the elephant statuette was stolen?"
Lilly, who was looking dubious as she listened to our conversation said, "Certainly, Mister Spicer. It is back in the library, right where it was when the Ivonya-Ngia elephant was taken. Walk this way, please."
Watching Lilly as she marched off down the hall, the Nick Charles gag from one of the Thin Man movies popped into my mind—the one where he follows a butler using the butler's bowlegged walk after being told to "walk this way." Unfortunately, Lilly's walk left no room for gags. It and she were all business.
The library—rich folks always have libraries whether they can read or not—was a small room at the south end of the house in which one wall was covered with bookshelves. Miss Davis had eclectic tastes that included everything from Shakespeare to A Detailed History of the California Missions and a copy of Thornton Wilder's Our Town script. There were also some comfortable-looking chairs, a library table, and a swanky fireplace.