Nancy Berman and Noah Dudley
Everyone has heard of the world-famous Hollywood Knights, the elite aerial militia which defends the skies over Hollywood. Without a doubt the flashiest squadron in the air, the Knights have also proven to be tough, savvy fliers. Their recent defeat of a large Diamondback squadron from Mexico has received a lot of publicity, as have their ongoing struggles with the Skyhawks of Pacifica. What many people don't know is that the now-numerous squadrons of the Knights began with a single plane and a very determined young lady.
When Hollywood first declared its independence on October 6, 1930, most people assumed that its greatest threat would come from the U. S. Government, trying to get back the valuable territory. Little did they realize that the first threat with which Hollywood would have to deal would come from a much closer, and far more sinister locale. This, then, is the story of the threat that brought the Hollywood Knights onto the big screen of Hollywood history.
The scene was a noisome alleyway in San Francisco, the northernmost metropolis of the new Hollywood nation.. The season: early December, 1930; the time: midnight. A rat scurried down the alleyway, its whiskers twitching. Too late, it sensed a flicker of movement behind it, and turned just in time to see the rapidly approaching slipper-shod foot that kicked it neatly down the length of the alley, where it slammed into the wall and dropped to the ground.
Wu Yin's eyes glittered with brief amusement as he glided down the alley, past the still- twitching rat and through a door marked "No Admittance" in Chinese. This might not have proven much of a deterrent to the thieves who made this part of the San Francisco waterfront their home, but the small symbol of a black dragon at the bottom did. No thief had ever dared to pass through those doors.
Wu Yin passed through several elaborately decorated rooms, each more opulent than the last, and each guarded by several of the tong's most elite warriors. In the anteroom outside the Audience Chamber of the Master he paused and composed himself. It was never pleasant (or safe) to bring bad news to the Master, but that was just what he was about to do. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the gilded doors and entered.
As always, Wu Yin was first assaulted by the mixed scents of incense and opium which filled the air. The walls of the room were covered with silken hangings that seemed to be continually rustling, although there was no breeze. The Master sat on a low lacquer throne in the shadows at the far end of the room, his corpulent form filling even its generous dimensions. At his feet lay two semi-nude concubines, their dreamy eyes full of opium-induced visions. Wu Yin noted that one of them was still wearing the chains that denoted a new slave, one who had yet to succumb to the inevitability of her slavery. But she would... she would.
Wu Yin bowed before the Master, who said, in his rumbling voice "What is it, Wu Yin? What is the bad news you have brought to me?" Without raising his head Wu Yin answered "In many respects all is going well, Master. The new government in Hollywood seems to have no idea of our existence, or at least is far too busy to concern itself with us. In local politics Mayor Alioto sends his regards and thanks."
"This is all old news, Wu Yin. I know all of this. I want to know what it is that is causing your knees to tremble and your sweat to stain the beautiful silk coat which I gave you."
"It is the White Lotus, Master. They have raided the House of Joy and released all the girls there. This now gives them control of all of the prostitution in San Francisco."
Wu Yin remained still, with his head bowed, awaiting the explosion, or perhaps even the heavy hands that would encircle his neck and snap it like a chicken's. But they never came. Wu Yin hazarded a glance at the Master and was amazed to see him smiling. "That is all right, little one. Let the White Lotus have their triumph for now. I have been devising a plan. Tell me Yin, what did we offer at the House of Joy,?"
"Master, we offered women who looked like the actresses from the movies. Men paid very well to fulfill their fantasies with the women they had seen on the screen."
"Ah, but what do you think they would pay for the real thing, little one?"
Wu Lin started. "But Master, how would we ever get out hands on..."
The Master chuckled "Leave that to me. As I said, I have a plan."
In the exclusive Aviator's Club in downtown Hollywood, the windows glowed. Inside the party was going great. Hollywood had a lot to celebrate. Independence from the United States had been declared a few months ago, and the tension as to whether the U. S. Government was going to do anything about it was abating. It was becoming increasingly clear that the weak government in Washington had far too many problems of its own to worry about trying to bring back the errant states who had followed Texas into independence. The new nation had been celebrating ever since the "Articles of Separation" were signed in the new Capitol Building at Hollywood and Vine, but tonight was going to be the big one.
Okay, the guest of honor wasn't there. Howard Hughes was supposed to have shown up to accept yet another award for breaking yet another aviation speed record, but Howard hadn't been seen much since he had moved his home up to the huge zeppelin which circled over Hollywood. It was rumored that he had telescopes up there trained on the apartments of his various "proteges" so that he could always keep an eye on them. It was also rumored that the bigwigs in the Hollywood government were doing their best to acquire the support of the famous aviator for some kind of aerial militia, of which the new nation was desperately in need.
But that was all politics, and therefore unimportant to the glitterati who were assembled in the Aviators' Club tonight. What WAS important was that the champagne was cold, the band was hot, and Charlie Steele was there. Anybody who was anybody in the Glitter Capital agreed that when it came to making a party happen Charlie had no equal in Hollywood -- which meant of course no equal in the whole wide world.
As usual, Charlie was surrounded by a pack of admirers. Her gorgeous figure, topped by a helmet of platinum hair, was enough to lure any man, but she combined these features with a quick wit and devastating tongue which seemed to attract admirers like an enemy zeppelin attracts bullets.
The band brought its number to a swinging end, and Edward Steele stepped to the microphone. "Boys and girls, may I have your attention?"
The room immediately quieted down. This was, after all, Edward Steele, the host of the party, the most powerful producer in Hollywood, and one of the movers and shakers in the new Hollywood government. He was NOT a man you wanted to cross, so when he said to listen, you listened.
"I don't want to stop the party for very long. I just wanted to let you know that the question of the name for our new nation has finally been settled. A lot of people, particularly the old Spanish land-grant families, have been holding out for a return to the old "Republic of California," but the Council felt that we needed a new name, a name that reflected who we are today. So, as of ten o'clock this morning Hollywood time, we are all citizens of a new nation -- The Nation of Hollywood!"
Raucous cheering broke out from the crowd, who identified much more strongly with new Hollywood than with old California. The fact is, most of them didn't care one way or another about the new nation, as long as it kept its nose out of the movie business, and kept the skies clear of pirates.
The band started up again. From across the crowded room Edward Steele tried in vain to attract his daughter's attention. Apparently oblivious to his calls and waves, Charlie continued to foxtrot away, although it was hard to tell exactly which of the men crowded around her she regarded as her dance partner. Eventually Edward had had enough, and plowed through the ranks of his daughter's admirers.
"Charlotte! Will you PLEASE come over here for a moment? There's someone I want you to meet." Annoyed at being interrupted in the middle of the dance, Charlie said "Oh, daddy! All right, if it's THAT important I'll come and meet your silly old....well hello!" The last part of her remark was directed at the man standing by her father's side. Tall and slender, with thick slicked-back black hair and cool green eyes, he was far and away the handsomest and best-dressed man in the room, just the sort of guy that Charlie loved... as often as possible. Her first thought was "Hmmm... this one could definitely be a keeper."
"Charlotte, I'd like you to meet Mr. Reed Champion. Reed is out here from the East Coast on business. He's worked with some friends of mine back there, so I invited him to join us this evening. I have other guests to attend to, so I'll leave you two alone to get acquainted." Steele beat a hasty retreat, leaving his daughter and Reed along on the crowded dance floor.
"Well, that was certainly subtle! I apologize for my father. How do you do, Mr. Champion? The girls back east must all be in mourning over losing you. But, their loss is definitely our gain. I'm sorry that Mr. Hughes doesn't seem to be here tonight, he's the guest of honor, you know.
"As far as I'm concerned, Miss Steele, the only really important guest is standing right here."
"Oooh, you ARE good... so, where are you going to take me first?"
"Hmm... where would you like to be taken?"
Charlie slipped her arm through Reed's. "You know, Mr. Champion, you show some REAL possibilities..."
Charlie took one last look in the mirror. She knew that she looked ravishing, but it never hurt to check one last time. And she REALLY wanted to look good for this one. The relationship with Reed had gone even better than she had expected, and a hell of a lot faster! The man certainly was a go-getter. She didn't think she'd had a night to herself since they'd met at the Liberation Party two weeks ago. She still wasn't entirely clear what kind of business he was in, but when it came to romance, he sure knew what he wanted.
Charlie wasn't going to admit it, but the fact was she was beginning to develop a soft spot for Reed Champion. For one thing, he was indisputably gorgeous. For another, he was a man of the world in a way totally different from the movie stars she usually dated. He spoke knowledgeably of Europe and Africa, of his collection of jade and of his business interests in China. He'd been everywhere, and seen everything. He was even an ace pilot.
Unlike practically everyone else in Hollywood, Charlie hadn't caught the flying bug. She did it when she had to, but it just wasn't that important to her. All of the new aviator fashions and flying magazines that were flooding Hollywood left her cold. But Reed had wanted to take her flying, so that's what they were off to do.
Charlie laughed from sheer joy. The wind whipped through her silky hair. Reed had made her put on a helmet when they took off, but she'd immediately ditched it when they got up. This was the most amazing feeling she'd ever had! She loved the feeling of swooping through the clouds, of flying up and over the Hollywood Hills and down across the Valley. She'd flown before, of course, but always in big, dull, commercial zeppelins. This was like flying in her dreams, the complete freedom of motion, the feeling that she could go anywhere and do anything.
Charlie screamed with delight as Reed pulled back on the control and the plane headed straight up. She looked behind her, and Reed grinned and gave her a thumb's up. Behind him the ground was receding from them at a dizzying pace. The whine of the little two-seater's engine grew louder as it labored to keep the climb steady. Then suddenly the engine gave a small cough, and died. The plane immediately lost speed and began to tip backwards... further and further, with the earth now above them and sliding past. Charlie screamed again, this time with fear. Behind her she could hear Reed swearing as he tried to the little plane upright. He managed to complete the loop, and right the plane, but in spite of the wind that spun the propeller at a high rate, the engine would not start. Reed moaned with fear, "There must be a clogged fuel line! Nothing's going to start this engine!"
Charlie turned around and screamed over the rushing wind, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, my dear, that this plane is going to crash. But don't worry, we do have a parachute. Unfortunately for you, I'm going to take it. Farewell, dear Charlie. It was fun while you lasted." With that, the formerly charming Reed jumped out of the plane, holding onto the single parachute!
Without Reed's hands on the controls the plane's nose dropped immediately and the plane went into a steep dive, heading faster and faster towards its inevitable doom!