Snippet 3: A Hollywood Christmas

I have only hinted about Elspeth’s life before the murder in Malta, so as a Christmas gift to you I thought I would write a snippet about her time in Hollywood. This story would have taken place in 1989.

A Christmas Eve Reflection in Hollywood

Elspeth Duff Craig stood at the kitchen counter and surveyed the great room in front of her. Her husband Alistair Craig had hired a set designer to do the Christmas decorations inside and out, and the man had surpassed himself. Elspeth, a naturally reserved person, disliked the ostentatious show, but Alistair, who spent his life on film sets, had applauded the display when he saw it.
Elspeth turned her attention back to the preparations for the Christmas Eve party. The caterer’s offerings were exquisite. For this Elspeth was grateful as she had never learned to cook properly and her efforts would not do for the glamourous people Alistair was bringing back from the studio.
Her children seemed to have disappeared. Peter, just ten, would be at the computer in his room. Lizzie, twelve, had brought a friend from boarding school in England, and Elspeth could hear the two of them giggling together out by the pool. Lizzie’s friend had been overawed when she saw Lizzie’s home, its sprawling plan, floor-to ceiling glass walls, and luxurious furnishings. When Alistair bought the house, Elspeth had left the interior design to him, and for years she had moved through the spaces without feeling it was home.
She thought of her childhood Christmases in Scotland, the warmth of her family, the beauty of the rugged scenery near her home on Loch Rannoch, and the holiday gatherings at her mother’s childhood home at Tay Farm. She had never invited Alistair there and he had never asked to go. He loved Hollywood, the razzmatazz and the glitz, and the warm weather year round. He had raved about it in London before they were married, and she fell under his spell, but the enchantment had long since had waned. Elspeth longed for substantial conversation and hated gossip, not only because she found it distasteful but also she did not know most of the people viciously targeted. The inside world of cinema was foreign to her, although at first she had tried to join in but then miserably failed.
She thought of Johnnie Tay, her cousin, and the wonderful days when she, he and his friend Richard Munro had romped through the Highlands making mischief. Richard had come to Tay Farm one Christmas before he married Lady Marjorie, who preferred Christmas at Glenborough Castle with her brother and his wife or at their official homes in the British Commonwealth. Elspeth wondered how Richard and Marjorie were celebrating Christmas this year. Marjorie’s Christmas card had said he had recently been posted to Kuala Lumpur as High Commissioner. Did Richard and Marjorie invite his staff to a large feast or did they dine quietly at the British Residence?
Elspeth looked out at the Christmas tree anchored by more presents than she considered decent, but Alistair loved the sceptical of handing out gifts on Christmas morning. Elspeth should have been impressed, but this once-a-year attention to his family was, to Elspeth, more for show than heart-felt, as was much of their life together in California. Had it not been for their children, she would have left him years ago and returned to London or Scotland. What would she have done there? She did not know but anything was better than her empty Wonderland life here.
The door burst open, and Alistair emerged carrying two bottles of veuve clicquot and a handful of champagne flutes. Behind him several well-known stars tripped merrily into the room, most of them slightly tipsy. A few hangers-on followed.
With her usual grace Elspeth moved toward them and offered Christmas greetings. They gave her cursory replies, as if she were no one of importance.
“Are the presents all for me,” a generously-figured and ageing actress said and giggled.
“Yes, darling,” said a lilting young man who obviously was seeking a part in her next film.
Elspeth smiled weakly. Alistair came over and pecked her on the cheek. “Well done,” he whispered. “They will be impressed.”
He drifted back into the crowd of people who had gathered near the built-in bar, made of exotic woods and glass and stocked with wines and spirits of the finest quality. Elspeth turned back to the caterers and indicated that the hors d’oeuvres should be served. She stayed by herself looking at the scene in front of her. All flash and no substance, she thought. They had a whirlwind romance in London, where Alistair was choreographing the sword play in a movie set in Jacobean times. The scene was set on Tower Bridge, and she was assigned to police coverage there, but when she and Alistair had arrived in Hollywood, she had learned its enchantment was only surface deep.
Elspeth had everything material that she needed in life—and more—but, except for raising her children, her days passed vacuously. What would her tutor at Cambridge think if she now saw Elspeth, with a tripos in law with a first and considered one of the more brilliant students of her year. She had heard her tutor had died, so she would never know, thank goodness. Would she have seen Elspeth’s mind being wasted on gourmet canopies and too much expensive wine?
Peter appeared from his room and came over to her.
“Are you OK, Mom?” he asked.
She smiled down at him. Darling Peter, she thought.
“Yes,” she lied. “I was just thinking of Scotland.”
“We should go to Grandmother and Grandfather’s house one Christmas!”
“It would be very different with Daddy’s work,” she said. She did not add that holidays there would be rich in loving but limited in luxuries such as those in front of her. Peter, sadly, had never known a life other than this one based on American rabid consumerism. Elspeth had tried to teach him otherwise, but she felt she had not been successful.
She gave him a hug, and he scampered off to pinch the presents marked with his name.
One of the younger starlets wandered over to where Elspeth was standing. She seemed soberer than the others.
“Alistair tells me you once worked for Scotland Yard,” she said in a whisper.
Elspeth nodded but did not speak.
“I have a little problem and I don’t want to go to the police. Could you help me?”
Elspeth nodded again. “Come day after tomorrow—at two,” she said. “You can tell me what it is.”
Suddenly Elspeth felt a breath of fresh air.
At the time Elspeth did not know that, by this unexpected request, she was on the verge of a new interest in life—digging into the secrets of the rich and famous in the film industry and helping those who did not want to go to the police’.