Valentino Will Die: A Bianca Dangereuse Mystery #2
Valentino Will Die, Feb. 2, 2021.
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About This Book:
In 1926, Bianca LaBelle, a world-renowned beauty and the star of the sensational movie serial The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, and Rudolph Valentino, the greatest silent screen lover ever, had been friends for years, but nothing more than friends. They had both come to Hollywood broke and in trouble, and had gone from completely unknown to incredibly famous at about the same time. Theirs are not the glamorous lives of the
movie publicity machine. Instead, they are more like war buddies, bonded by various battles.
And now the two silent screen legends are starring in a movie together. It’s clear Rudy’s health is a wreck, and he admits to her that he has been receiving anonymous death threats for weeks. After they finish shooting Grand Obsession, Rudy begins a national publicity tour for Son of the Sheik, the soon-to-be-released sequel to his most famous movie, The Sheik, and Bianca starts work on another Bianca Dangereuse adventure in Hollywood. Then news reaches her that Rudy has collapsed in New York. Bianca rushes to his side (four days on the train) where he says he’s been poisoned. And…he dies, leaving her determined to investigate whether Rudy was murdered.
Read an Excerpt of Valentino Will Die
~That Should Have Been The First Thing You Said!~
It was a beautiful California summer night indeed, clear and moonlit, still relatively warm after a hot day, though the temperature was dropping quickly. Bianca and Rudy strolled together around the grounds, through the small orange grove that gave the estate its name, and Bianca took the opportunity to show Rudy the vegetable garden near the house that she had planted and tended herself. It was burgeoning right now, and Rudy exclaimed over her beautiful crop of tomatoes and eggplants, vowing to make his famous spaghetti sauce for her if she would promise to give him some of her canned tomatoes. They visited Bianca’s small stable and said hello to her four riding horses. Both stars were expert riders and had spent many happy hours riding through the hills together. Bianca suggested a nighttime ride, but Rudy demurred, too weary at the moment.
They wandered back toward the house and sat down next to one another on chaise lounges next to the pool.
Rudy sank back and heaved a mighty sigh. “I am tired, cara. I will have to find my bed soon.”
“Everything in your usual guest bedroom is ready when you are, hon. You know the way.” Bianca had just reclined, but now she popped back up into a sitting position. “Look at that moon. Que bella! As for me, it’s such a lovely, warm night that I think I’ll take a swim. Come on, Rudy.”
“Sei pazza,” he said, amused.
“I’m not crazy.” She pulled her boots off and stood up. “What could be more relaxing than floating your cares away?” She proceeded to strip off her trousers and shirt and dove into the pool clad only in her camiknickers. The full moon shimmered on the water and glistened off of Bianca’s bare shoulders as she began to swim, a strong, smooth crawl across the blue and white mosaic – tiled pool.
Rudy stood up to watch her glide through the water. He sighed, moved by the fragrant night, the glint of moonlight, and the beautiful woman. He took off his shoes and sat on the edge of the pool to dangle his feet in the water. “It’s cold!”
Bianca stopped swimming and turned over to float leisurely on her back. The silk camiknickers clung enticingly to her body. “It’s refreshing,” she corrected.
“If Jimmy Quirk from Photoplay saw us now, he would believe in our affair, no matter what we tell him,” Rudy said.
Bianca continued to float, her face turned up toward the full moon, her eyes closed. “He already does, no matter what we tell him.”
After a long, relaxed moment of silence, Rudy said, “Why do you never love, cara?”
The question made Bianca swallow a mouthful of water. “Who said I don’t?” she said, treading water after a few seconds of splashing and sputtering.
“Of course I do, Rodolpho. What a question.”
“Is it girls you like, cara?”
Bianca was surprised by his question, but not offended. Hollywood was rife with lesbians, and rumor had it that Rudy himself was not strictly heterosexual. She didn’t know if the rumor was true. Neither one of them had ever tried to seduce the other. They had never discussed their sexual preferences at all. “Not that it’s any of your business,” she said, “but no, I’ve never been particularly attracted to other women. Sometimes I think my life would be easier if I were.”
Rudy chuckled. “So you have a lover, yes?”
“Not at the moment, no. You?”
“Not at the moment,” he admitted.
“Pola told me not long ago that you two are about to become
Rudy shrugged. “Pola is wonderful. But she runs too hot for me, always exploding like Vesuvius. I like my peace.” He sighed. “I think perhaps I shall break it off soon. I need someone who is…less complicated.”
Bianca had first met Pola Negri at Constance Talmadge’s house in Santa Monica, and thought she was a lot of fun. Her English was hilariously twisted, and she had no inhibitions whatsoever. The blame for Natacha and Rudy’s breakup lay with both husband and wife, but Natacha was cruel to Rudy in the end, flaunting her affairs in his face. At first, Bianca thought Pola was a good distraction for Rudy after the divorce. Too much of a distraction, as it turned out. She was free-spirited to the point of anarchy, and jealous to boot, which did nothing for the peace of mind of an expansive, friendly, flirtatious man like Rudy.
They eyed one another across the water, unsure of what to say next. Either of them could have had a dozen lovers of either sex in the blink of an eye.
Bianca LaBelle was one careful young woman. Rudy had learned that early on. Valentino was impulsive, overly romantic, and every move he made was splashed all over the tabloids. Bianca did a good job of keeping any bad habits she might have well- hidden. Rudy suspected Bianca had learned the value of sobriety and self-control from her mentor, actor Mary Pickford, one of Hollywood’s most successful moguls of either sex. It was harder to take advantage of someone who had all her wits about her.
Alma Bolding, a once-popular but now fading star who had given Bianca her first break in the movies, was a well-known user and drunk. Which is why her movie career was on the skids. But for some reason the high life never quite took with Bianca, even considering the fact that her friend Alma was one of its foremost practitioners.
Rudy had been present the first time Bianca had accompanied Alma on one of her weekends of debauchery at Hearst Castle, back in 1922. Bianca had spent the entire time fending off drunken glitterati of both genders and ended up locking the door to her suite at night. She had gained a reputation as a bluestocking after that. But Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, liked her, and so did newspaper czar Randolph Hearst himself. Bianca was kind, witty, not particularly judgmental, and up for an adventure, adept at sailing, riding, and lawn tennis, even if she did insist on staying sober and wasn’t interested in bed-hopping. Her perceived aloofness had made her a challenge for some of the more determined roués around town, so she never accepted an overnight invitation to anyone’s estate unless she could bring her large and sexually indeterminate guardian, Fee, with her.
It had been that first weekend at Hearst Castle that Bianca and Rudy had discovered their mutual love of dogs and horses. In spite of Rudy’s reputation as a hot lover and Bianca’s as a cold virgin, the two matinee idols had quickly become the warmest of friends.
Rudy continued, “Was there ever someone…is there someone who holds a place in your heart like no other?”
Bianca hesitated. “Not really. Most of the guys I’ve been mixed up with have turned out to be jerks. Well, except one, long ago. His name was Arturo Carrazel. I was just a child, but…”
“You are still just a child, cara,” Rudy teased. “But you should find your old love, someone who could love you for who you really are, and not this creation you have become.”
Bianca ignored the jibe about her age. “I think of Artie some- times, and wonder what became of him, though I’m sure he never thinks of me—the real me—at all. How about you?”
“I don’t know. There is a girl I have recently…” He let the thought trail off. “But everyone I have ever loved has left me.”
The comment took her aback. She knew Rudy to be sensitive and reckless both in life and in love. He usually suffered greatly for a while and then bounced back handily. This seemed different, darker. “What brought this on?” Bianca said.
“I am a farmer in my soul. Did you know that? I meant to become a farmer when I moved to California. But I cannot do it now, not for a long time. I have too many debts and must keep working to pay them off. I cannot keep playing this same lover over and over, not much longer. Soon I will be too old and bald and ridiculous.” He looked up at the moon. His dark, liquid eyes glistened in the lambent light. Were those unshed tears? “I grow to hate my life, Bianca.”
What a remarkable revelation. She swam to the pool’s edge where he was sitting. “What’s wrong, Rudy? Tell me. I’ve known for weeks that something is eating you up.”
Rudy was unfamiliar with the phrase, but he nodded. “Yes, eating me up.” He dug into the pocket of his plus-fours and pulled out a much folded, wrinkled piece of paper and held it out to her. He didn’t unfold it. It was too dark and he was too nearsighted to read it to her, but he had memorized the contents.
“Valentino will die,” he recited.