Hopper Gold was a comedian in the silent era known primarily for his character some termed “the happy hobo”. A few years after his career took off, Hophien Goldstein, a name given to him at birth, was able to create his own production company, and then with Mary Martell and Norris colin Beaumont, they had their own film company. Hopper had money and lots of property. A houseboat, which he took a year off to just sail the pacific coast. Drugs were sometimes a factor in his wild behavior. A little coke, which wasn't completely against the law yet, but Hopper wasn't hard bitten with them unless he was filming.
Hopper's weakness was young girls. Not too young, except that time in his hometown of London he purchased a night with a twelve year old. No, Hopper liked his women sixteen and, but no older than twenty-five. Hopper had just been married for the fourth time to Bessie Spence. They married on her seventeenth birthday. Already a veteran in the film business with twenty eight films under her belt, Bessie was happy to get far away from her controlling stage mother.
And on the night of one of the last great parties that Hopper threw, cowboy star Tex Magee had already planned his revenge for his much hated boss, and Hopper wasn't going to get the last laugh.
Tex had been over Hopper's house a month ago to get his signature on a new three picture deal with Starbright, the company Hopper had started. Hopper was the only one holding out. Mary Martell signed right away, since she remembered how easy Tex was at pleasing her years ago. Beaumont had no problems signing since Tex's last three movies made a lot of money for the company.
Tex met the butler at the door and the butler showed Tex to the game room.
That was where Tex saw Hopper's new prize.
The poor creature. She was missing her lower half, just a torso with very long arms. She had a face only a mother could love. One eye larger than the other. A slack mouth and a nose flattened to her yellow skin with tiny holes for nostrils. There were only four long black strands of hair tied in one ponytail on top of her peanut shaped head.
Tex approached the her cage carefully, that sat on a pool table. The closer he got, the more excited she was.
“Howdy, pretty lady,” Tex said nervously. “Where did he get you?”
She screamed, laughed, shook her cage. Tex backed away. He heard footsteps from behind him. He turned, saw Hopper standing there smoking a huge stogie.
“You like her?” He said gingerly. “Saw this misfortune at shop in Siam. I quite took a fancy to her.” Hopper exhaled a large smoke ring that hung in the air a few minutes. “I've got big plans for her next dinner party. You see, Tex, I own or have owned nearly everything you could think of. Until now, I have not owned a human being. What huge responsibility it is!” Hopper let out a wheezing laugh. Strange a man makes his living making others laugh and he has such a weak slimy personality. Hopper sighed. “Now I understand how those slave owners felt. The weight of it all is...crushing.”
He is a small man, Tex thought. Like a dwarf. “Yeah...Hopper, a mess I would say,
This thing....anyway my contracts---”
“No,” Hopper chewed his cigar.
“What?” Tex took a few steps toward Hopper. His six-one stature towering over the comedienne.
“Listen, chap. When you have proven yourself in Tinseltown you can a buffalo chip more and maybe your own production company. But those...horse dramas you make, will never be art.”
“Made more money last year than your slapstick’s, boy-o.” Tex's face had puckered up like he'd eaten a grapefruit with dog shit on it. “I have been in this town ten years. I won three straight Rodeos. 1909,1910,1911--”
“Rodeos....Ro-de-ooos!” Hopper shook his head, laughing. “I do love your accent. Oh, my, Texans are so droll.” He walked away laughing.
Tex was left with the torso laughing at him. “I'm from Omaha.” He said, defeated.
Just outside of the studio Tex sat in a local diner with Hopper's butler. The elderly black man was nervous. Kept looking over his shoulder.
“He doesn't know your here, Albert. Everything's alright,” Tex told him.
Albert shook his head. “No sir,” He pointed at the sign on the wall behind him that read No Negros or Dogs allowed. “I'm not worried about Mr. Gold.”
Tex smiled a toothy grin. “Naw, no reason to be scared, Mr. Albert. I own this place. As you can see, we are almost closed anyway. Now, just relax.”
“I can have the money now, please, sir?”
Tex threw down two twenty’s. “As per our agreement, hoss. Tell me about that curiosity Mr. Gold has in his game room.”
“It's hideous, Mr. Magee. I wish Mr. gold had never brought that thing in the house. The noises it makes at night, screechin' like an owl. Growlin' at me and the servant girls when we come and go.”
“He found this at a shop in Siam?”
Albert looked confused. “No, Mr. Magee. I was with him. We were here, in Los angeles. I heard about this man who traveled in a carnival. I went to a speakeasy a few months back.” Albert smiled, shrugged. “My only weakness is goin' out, hearin' some hot jazz....some low blues....and drinkin' myself into a stupor. I can't help that.”
“No man can help that, Albert. Go on.” Tex poured himself a glass of beer from a bottle. The bottle was dusty and he didn't even wipe the top, which disgusted Albert.
“This man showed Mr. Gold how he trained...that thing.”
“Like in a circus..Lions.”
“Ah. How was that, Albert?”
“He had a code word.” Albert leaned in, whispered. “Slinky. He calls it slinky...because it slinks across the floor.”
“That's the code word?”
Albert nodded. “Then he strokes it's head. Says things to it you should only say to your wife....do things...you should only do with your wife. It says so in the Bible.”
“No kiddin'?” Tex was taken aback by that revelation.
“I don't like bein' there, Mr. Magee. We close up house before the big dinner party. Mr. Gold goin' on family vacation,I have a whole week off. I'm not lookin' forward to going back. No sir.”
“What does he get her to do, Albert?”
“Oh, Mr. Magee...it's horrible. She eats small animals..alive. It started with rats...now cats and...the neighbors little dog. He has the pet shop send him small dogs and she tears into them. I can't take bein' there.”
“Your not goin' to, Albert. You come work for me. Fifty a week, boy. That's more than Gold pays right?”
“What do I tell him? I been in his house for three years.”
“Tell him that your going home, Albert back to wherever it is. One more thing, hoss. You keep that key after you lock up his house. Give me the key.”
“I....don't know....” The old man nodded his head.
“Good boy. He is leaving her, right?”
“He can't take that thing to England, Mr. Magee. He'd have to get it a passport. A famous man like Mr. gold can't be seen with a freak.”
Tex sat back in his chair, nodded. “No, I guess he can't, can he?”
Tex let himself in Hopper's house. The floors were cold from the fires being out, no electricity. Clumsily, Tex found his way to the game room. He had sent word to all involved in his affairs, he would be gone the whole week to New Mexico to look at land. He even had his girl drop him off at the train station. He dropped his duffel bag on the floor. He brought supplies for himself. He noticed that Hopper hadn't left anyone to care for his little treasure or any means of food for it. Tex pulled the blanket from her cage. She stirred a little, then sat up. She shook the cage and grunted, pointing at her mouth, indicating she was hungry.
“I don't think so, pretty lady.” Tex said. He took out a pack of rolling paper and tobacco. He rolled a cigarette. He took a few puffs. “You know, if your funny friend was nicer to me, I wouldn't do this to you. But,” Tex put the lit cigarette to her large forehead. The flesh sizzled and sank underneath fire red tip. She screamed, a cry that Tex will never forget. “All's fair in love and war.”
The stage was set for Tex's vengeance, and Hopper called everyone into the game room for a special show.
It was a crowd of about thirty or so people. All with a glass of brandy or stronger, some with a vein full of nefarious narcotic. Tex took a view up front, just behind a newspaper tycoon. Tex lit his cigar, smiled big. Only he knew the joke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I use the term loosely, see my new prize!” Hopper pulled the blanket from the cage. The audience drew short breaths and recoiled. “Now, now. No need for that.” She stirred in her cage, pulled herself up by holding on the cage. She came closer, into the light. Hopper noticed deep burn marks and lift an eyebrow in a question. He quickly pulled in the natural showman. “Now, everyone, hold on to yourselves for a remarkable show. Watch as Matilda eats this---” a new butler brings in a newborn lamb, sets it on the pool table. “You will never forget this night.”
Hopper unhinged the clasp to the cage. She slid out of her cage cautiously. Tex could feel his heart skip a beat. He inhaled the cigar, exhaled in one long sigh. Hopper looked at his audience. He motioned with both hands. “Well, come closer!” They did so, except the newspaper tycoon, he stayed back and pushed Tex forward. Tex was side by side with Hopper.
She saw the cigar and began to grunt. Hopper smiled big and whispered, “ Slinky...”
She put both hands on the pool table and pushed past the lamb. She grabbed Tex by his tuxedo coat tail and pulled him down. He smashed his face into the wooden side of the pool table. She took a handful of his blond hair and fell with him to the floor. Hopper was aghast, his audience screamed and scattered.
Her teeth bared down on Tex's cheek and the small sharp points burrowed deep to the bone. Blood fiercely spurted everywhere, blinding Tex. No one came to his rescue as Tex's cries could be heard throughout the mansion.