A Hollywood publicist and a psychic-to-the-stars have an unscripted close encounter. 2,203 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
We’re anchored off St. Barts on the top deck of a super-yacht belonging to a Reality TV producer. It’s a humid starry evening with a party atmosphere of clinking glasses and glib conversations. I’ve come at the invitation of my pal, director Reggie Morgan, to witness a Hollywood psychic deliver a palm reading to an up-and-coming actress who was delightful in that DiCaprio movie.
Olivia Wallace Grimes holds her palms up and listens as Susan Talmadge intones, “I can sense the aura surrounding you, and I now see your aura. Did you know that you have a spiritual host, my dear?”
Olivia suppresses a giggle as she nods faintly.
“Your spiritual host is named Martha,” Susan is saying. “Do you recognize her?”
“Martha? Martha?” Olivia thinks for a second and bites her lower lip. “You mean, Aunty?”
“Yes, your Aunty. And she is very worried about you. There is a person of great importance in your life who has recently betrayed you. A person whom you counted on. And they have lied to you.”
“It’s Hollywood. What can I say?” Olivia says glumly amid titters from the party crowd.
“What is it, Martha? What’s that you say? Martha says that Emma…”
Olivia straightens. “Did you say Emma? Are you talking about the role of Emma? The part I’m up for?”
“Were up for, Martha tells me.” Susan removes her hands from Olivia’s outstretched palms and turns away as the actress begins to tremble with suppressed anger.
“I’ve lost the part, haven’t I?”
Susan says nothing.
“How can they do this to me? I was promised that role! I studied for it! I even hoped it was going to win me a nomination!”
Standing to one side of this odd unfolding drama, I realize that Olivia is cracking. She stands up and presses the fingers of both hands to her temples. When a friend steps forward to see if she’s all right, Olivia slaps the woman’s hand away and storms across the deck.
Then the actress quickly hurls herself overboard.
As screams echo across the dark waters, I approach the seer. She is the closest thing Hollywood has to a Moon Goddess, that’s for sure, what with the ultra upsweep of jet black hair, the Oil of Olay glimmer of her face that reflects moonbeams — yes, moonbeams, the signature white cape adorned with glittery sequined stars on her shoulders that she wears during her psychic readings. When she speaks, it’s as if the words are windless missiles striking at the soul.
“I should introduce myself,” I say, handing her my business card. “Gabe Simmons. Publicist. Raconteur. “I represent celebrities and, well, I’m thoroughly mesmerized by the performance you just put on.”
“Performance?” Susan sniffs. “I put on no performance. What I said is true. Only I shouldn’t have agreed to read her palms before a group of her friends. It’s awkward. Now, what did you say your name was again?”
“Simmons. It’s right there on the card. But just call me Gabe. You know, I’ve read about you for some time now but I’m sorry we’ve never had the chance to meet. It’s my fault, I assure you. Please forgive me.”
“What celebs do you represent, Gabe?”
“Not really celebs,” I reply with a weak cough. “Directors. Production companies. Some screenwriters — although I don’t like working with them usually since they often don’t pay their bills.”
“And directors do?”
We share a laugh and I am just about to identify a few of my more reliably paying clients when we hear a splash and turn our heads to see that two crewmembers are now in the water trying to find what the devil has become of the submerged actress.
“Why don’t you come to my cabin and have a drink?” Susan asks as she motions to a demure young woman a few feet away. “Rene, this is Gabe. I’ll be down in my cabin. Tell them that I won’t be back up for a little while.” She gives me a wink.
Rene, who has a sweet face but dour expression and reminds me so much of a French girl I once forgot about at Cannes, nods silently and Susan threads her arm through mine and escorts me below deck.
She pours me a glass of Jamaican rum, mixes it with warm cola and a few plunks of translucent ice, and we sit down and size each other up.
“I have a part-time publicist,” she offers. “Penelope Stigart, Know her?”
“I know her.”
“She’s not very good.”
“So I hear.”
“Do you think you’re better?”
“Depends. Where do you want to take your career?”
“It isn’t a career, Gabe. And it’s not a hobby nor a job.” Her expression turns sour and I kick myself. “It is destiny. What do you know about me?”
“I remember reading somewhere that you survived a terrible fire back in New Jersey when you were just a child.”
“I was seven at the time. My mother and four sisters all perished. Daddy lit the fire and was sent to prison for life. I survived when I stepped into a protective cone of light.”
“Yes, now I remember. Angels protected you.”
“Celestial protectors, I like to call them. At that moment, I realized that I’m special. And I never forgot the rush of being the center of attention.”
“Awful about your mom and sisters.”
“Oh, but I am still in contact with them.”
“Just as I was with Martha a few minutes ago. In fact, I have the ability to channel numerous entities, Some you may have heard of.”
“Marilyn Monroe. James Dean. Carole Lombard. That’s when I’m not doing other things.”
“I’ve lived many past lives, Gabe.”
“Exactly what does that mean — past lives.”
“I was once a French count serving in Napoleon’s army in 1806 and maneuvered my troops against the advancing Prussians.”
“A count? Really?”
“I was also a poor waif wandering the streets of St. Petersburg where I witnessed the October Revolution and came face-to-face with Lenin. He took me in and fed me. But I won’t bore you with the details of my past lives right now. What I will do is ask about you.”
“Well, I came out of Hell’s Kitchen. Did a little boxing. Headed west. Got a job on a studio lot running errands for the head of publicity. I was good at dealing with people. I eventually landed a job with Rogers & Cowan.”
“I like to think so. I have my own PR firm now”
“So, what will you do for me that Penelope doesn’t do already?”
“Well, I might get you a radio gig.”
“I abhor radio. My voice is as weak as a kitten’s.”
“Maybe a TV special, then.”
“That’s more like it. You know, Louis Summers, who owns this delightful yacht, is thinking about doing a Reality TV show based on me.”
“He’s a smart man.”
“But how? I can’t read palms all day.”
“Let me think it over and send over some notes.”
“You’d do that without a contract?”
“I trust you’ll hire me.”
“Trust me, Gabe, I will.” She takes a sip of her rum and cola. “Want a reading? I promise I won’t charge you.” She gets up and walks over to the light switch on the wall and dims the cabin. Then she says, “It’s the least I can do to prove that I’m not a scam artist.”
“Oh, I don’t think—“
“Let me see your palms.” Before I can say another word, she grasps both of my hands and runs her fingers gently over the creases in my skin.
“Ah, I see that you’re efficient.”
“There’s nothing out of order at the office or the house, if that’s what you mean.”
She now massages my palms with her thumbs. “You have made and lost a small fortune.”
“Fortune? Me? I don’t think so.”
“No, Gabe, you have come into much money and lost much money.”
“You must mean gambling debts.”
“Ah, I was not wrong.”
“I have done pretty well in Vegas now and then. But I always lose it.”
“And you have never married?”
“You can tell that by reading my palms?”
“The energy you give off is startling. You have an aura about you, Gabe.”
My chest swells.
“Quite a serious aura. A glowing energy. I’ve never seen one so forceful. And there is someone now coming into focus.”
“There is?” My heart beats faster as Susan then closes her eyelids and begins rocking slowly back and forth as if caught in some rhythmic beat of celestial origin. The seconds tick by in the dead silence of the cabin.
“Yes, I will ask him,” she whispers to some unseen being. “Gabe, she wants to know how you are.”
“She says her name is Rene.”
“Rene?” I look around the room for her assistant. Isn’t that her name? Could this be how Susan works her psychic powers? She’s dependent on her assistant roaming the sidelines?
“Rene wants to know how you are?” Susan repeats.
“I’m fine. Fine.”
“What’s that, Rene? What? I see. She now asks if you had a good time at the party?”
“This party? Sure.”
“No, not this party. Rene says the party on the Promenade de la Croisette. You took her hand and visited the shops and sat in your favorite restaurant and you both enjoyed the lemon tarts.”
“Hey, what is this? I don’t know any Rene. And I’ve never been in Cannes with any woman named Rene.”
“Oh, now she’s crying. You’ve made Rene cry. You don’t remember her, do you?”
“How can I remember someone I’ve never met?”
“You told her that you could assist her with her movie career.”
Susan is again rocking back and forth in place, listening, not speaking for the moment. I feel as if I’m in the middle, not of a séance or palm reading, but in some kind of set-up. That’s it. I’m being set up. This is all a prank. Pulled by my buddy Reggie up on deck. He must have slipped Susan some serious coin and now she’s coming at me with a made-up routine. It’s a con game. Rene is talking to my buddy upstairs and communicating with Susan through an earpiece. Pretty clever.
“Rene misses you, Gabe.”
“Yeah? Well, tell her I miss her, too,” I say, playing along.
“She remembers how tender you were as you took her to your room and told her that you loved her.”
“Yeah, it was swell. And she was a hot chick, as I recall. And I told her she’d make it in movies and all I needed was to get her audition tape to my Hollywood friends.”
“Rene says that she believed you.”
“Hey, Gabe Simmons doesn’t lie. Not like that, anyway.”
“And she regrets how you never came back. What is that, Rene? Speak louder. I can’t understand. Oh, I see. Yes. I will tell him. Rene says that you left and never returned after she told you that she was with child.”
I yank my hands away. “Shit, what is this?”
Susan opens her eyelids but doesn’t reply.
“This Rene claims she was pregnant with my child? Claims I walked out on her? Well, Gabe Simmons resents her insinuation. Get it?”
I’m about to stand up and leave the cabin when Susan reaches over and grabs my elbow. “I’m sorry, Gabe.”
“Yeah, well, you should be. Quoting some Rene I’ve never heard of telling me I’m the father of her kid. Well, I don’t like it and I have to tell you here and now that I’m rescinding my request to handle your publicity.”
“No, it was all right when Olivia squid-for-brains dove overboard, but I’m different. I’m Gabe Simmons and I’m a respectable PR man. I make it a point not to do anything that could ruin my business. And who is this Rene, anyway? Tell me that. Your assistant, right? I saw her up on deck. You called her Rene. I know what’s going on.”
“Rene just said you might know her by her middle name.”
“And what’s that?”
I stop and think. Audrey? Cannes? Lemon tarts?
“Wait. Wait just a damn sec. I knew a gal once. Her name was Audrey. I knew her over in Cannes.”
Susan takes another sip of her rum drink.
“She was there two years in a row,” I add. “Working for the French phone company. Helping out the press and all us publicists. We dated. Then I broke it off. But I didn’t know she was preggers.” I approach Susan. “So, this is another Rene, huh? Not your assistant? This is Audrey. You really were talking to Audrey? Can you tell me what happened to her?”
“She didn’t tell me.”
“Well, get her back. I’ve got to know what ever happened to her. Did she have the kid?”
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
“What the hell are you saying, Susan?”
“Audrey’s daughter. Her name is Rene. I think she would like to meet her father now. Stay right here and let me go get her.”