That afternoon and right through into the evening, Gladys, Eric and I took Hollywood by storm, meaning that by late evening we had been thrown out of the waxwork museum after a tragic mix up between Eric and James Dean, eaten so much food that we had to be forcibly removed from the Hard Rock Café for sleeping—to be fair Gladys needed a nap—, completely lost Eric for about an hour at a Lion King convention, bumped into Elvis at least fifty times—I swear he was following us—, discovered Gladys had the same size feet as Shirley Temple, and also, to our delight, discovered that Michael Jackson had been reincarnated too.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a top-notch day it had already turned out to be, when, after a bad turn and some terrible directions from a Japanese tourist, we found ourselves stood in front of the mother-of-all-shops.
I couldn’t freakin’ believe it! It was the one and only shop in the whole wide world that was capable of causing my whole body to involuntary scream at the top of my lungs.
‘AAAARLGH, GLADYS, IT’S MY FAVOURITE SHOP, LOOK, THEY’VE GOT A TAXIDERMY SHOP HERE TOO, IT MUST BE A GLOBAL CHAIN.’
Gladys gripped Eric’s arm with one hand. ‘Oh, for the love of …’
I can honestly say that at that point in time, I didn’t give a duck’s arse who saw me. I flung both of my gangly arms in the air and tore inside the shop, with a trail of foam dripping from my mouth.
For all I cared, Benedict Cumberbatch could have been stood in the doorway with a box of Milk Tray; I’d have still run right past him shouting, ‘Do one, Cumberbatch!’.
‘LOOK,’ I wailed as I pointed at the products and twirled in circles. ‘LOOK, ELVIS SQUIRREL, LOOK, MARILYN MONROE SQUIRREL, LOOK, DORIS DAY SQUIRREL …’
A female shop assistant, wearing a high-neck vintage funeral dress and white gloves, slid over and tapped me on my shoulder. ‘Excuse me, I would be grateful if you could keep the noise down as our other customers are finding it difficult to choose.’
‘It’s just, I’m so excited, this is my favourite shop ever. I have one hundred and seventy-eight squirrels from yourselves, but I’ve never seen Hollywood Squirrels before.’
‘Well now, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone this excited about taxidermy before,’ the shop assistant said. ‘I hope you have one of our membership cards.’
I gripped my mouth and squealed. ‘Membership cards! I didn’t think this day could get any better, but it’s turning out to be a right knees-up.’
‘Also, if you’d like to step over there, there’s a live taxidermy demonstration taking place, which I think,’ she nudged me, ‘you might be interested in.’
I remember nothing after that.
Eric said that before either he or Gladys could so much as blink, I’d “paranormal activitied” my way through the crowd and landed at the front of the demonstration table where I’d let out a blood-curdling wail.
Then, I’d somehow produced an axe, chased all of the customers out of the shop, thrown all of the squirrels in a heap on the floor and tried setting alight to them so they could die humanely.
Basically, I had morphed into what Gladys eloquently described to two Californian police officers as ‘a killer gorilla with fluctuating oestrogen levels’.
When I eventually came to, I found myself sitting on the bench outside the taxidermy shop, blubbering incoherently to two police officers who were sitting either side of me and rubbing my back to try to calm me down.
As it turned out, they loved squirrels too, so when I explained that I’d been unwittingly living with one hundred and seventy-eight dead ones for the last thirty-something years, I could see tears well up in their eyes too as the realisation of my terrible predicament sunk in.
Luckily, both police officers were female so they were literally like, ‘life-creep, right?’ and I was like, ‘I know, right, whatta dog’s dinner this is’.
Gladys just tutted.
The police officers were so nice though; they said that normally people would be arrested for attempted murder but due to the tragic circumstances surrounding the event that they would let me off.
The sour-faced crab in the black funeral dress, who it turned out was called Victoria and owned the taxidermy shop, didn’t look happy about this at all. She wanted to press charges but the police were having none of it. They said that it was totally her fault because she knew all along that nobody is ever, ever that happy about taxidermy, so she should have understood the consequences of her actions.
The police also reminded her of Trump’s “squirrel responsibly campaign”, which he ran last year, the one that highlighted the dangers of selling dead squirrels to happy customers. Victoria said she wouldn’t do it again.
It took two unicorn milkshakes, another unicorn ice cream, a unicorn beef sandwich and a terrible street cartoonist’s interpretation of Gladys before I smiled again that night. Despite the dead squirrel saga, it had been the most incredible day, what with the Squirrel Reserve, hanging out with Gladys and Eric in Hollywood, and there was still more to come: hanging out with a bunch of famous people in a nightclub.
I was literally having the time of my life, so I decided there and then that I was not, under any circumstances, going to let the dead squirrel issue ruin the rest of my star-studded night. I had to forget about squirrels.
A short while later, Gladys, Eric and I all stood on the side of the road, staring intently at the neverending queue leading into one of the hottest nightclubs on Hollywood Boulevard. The sound of high-energy techno flowed from the double doors of the club, beating like waves through an endless crowd of immaculate Gucci dresses and Armani suits that lined the street.
‘Well, this is terrible, let’s go home,’ said Eric.
I tutted. ‘We can get through that, no probs.’
‘Okay, let’s go,’ Eric said again.
‘Hold it right there, Eric. You said this is where we can hang out with famous people and now you’re just like, ‘let’s go’? What the hell is up with you?’
‘Well, it’s just, I never thought about it then, it’s just that …’
‘Spit it out.’
‘Okay, here’s the thing. In Hollywood, it’s really hard to get into nightclubs because they only let a certain type of person in. Which is why we are going to find it so difficult, so let’s go.’
‘What. Type. Of. Person?’ Gladys said.
‘Not us, let’s go.’
Gladys gripped Eric by the kaftan. ‘Tell. Us. Now.’
‘Fine. They only let beautiful women in.’
Gladys gripped her string vest. ‘What the hell is wrong with this?’
I stared at my legs too. ‘It’s not as if I only wore pink leggings by themselves and you can see everything when I bend over. I teamed them with denim hotpants.’
‘Look, both of you, it’s not about what you are wearing. I think you’re both beautiful. It’s just the way they are here.’
Gladys gripped her fists. ‘Sexist, discriminating bunch of ba—’
‘No swearing in California, Gladys. Listen, Eric, I don’t think you quite understand who you are hanging out with right now. We are two rather sprightly British scousers and there ain’t no way we’re being told we’re too ugly for anything. Watch and learn, sunshine.’
Gladys pressed her finger into Eric’s bare chest. ‘Yeah, watch and learn, sunshine, watch and learn.’
I slammed my light-up trainers into the ground as I marched to the front of the queue, with Eric and Gladys following right behind me. On reaching the front, I hurled a load of aspiring models aside and came face-to-face with four beefy bouncers, who I’m sure Ancestory.com would have agreed shared a record percentage of centimorgans with King Kong.
‘Good evening, kind Sirs,’ I said as I wiped away tears. ‘I’m here because I have had the most awful, terrible day.’
One of the burly doormen grumbled. ‘What happened?’
I hung my head low and rested one of my hands on the doorman’s enormous, broad shoulders. ‘It’s just, just that my dog got run over this morning,’ I wailed, ‘and then something else terrible happened.’
I pulled out a tissue and blew my nose. ‘When my cat found out, she was so full of grief that she jumped from a tree and died. And then something else terrible happened.’
‘My fish found out the cat had died and mysteriously died in an underwater drowning.’ I let out a howl and wiped more tears away. ‘Oh, the pain.’
‘Why are you telling us this?’
‘Because, kind Sirs, gaining entry to this nightclub is the only thing that will stop me from sinking into a deep, deep depression. So please, if you can find it in your hearts, please let us in.’
I buried my face in my hands and sobbed, sure in my mind that my usual dead dog, dead cat, dead fish story, which had so far gained me entry to every club in Liverpool and two Nicki Minaj concerts, would work.
I lifted my face from my hands. ‘Say what?’
Five nightclubs later and my tragic tale never got us into a single place. I couldn’t bloody believe it. Eventually we all flopped on a bench and I scratched my head. ‘Have I—’
‘No, Grace, you never lose it. This isn’t your fault,’ Gladys said.
‘I’ve never been turned away, though. I’ve lost all my, my,’ I gripped my head, ‘my womanly charms.’
‘Grace, it’s not possible, you haven’t, I—’
‘No Gladys, stop it. I have to accept it. That was the last of them. It’s all over.’
As Gladys and I continued to disagree about the existence of my womanly charms, we both noticed a noise coming from the other end of the bench. We looked over at Eric who was sat rocking back and forth and wailing, ‘Terrible, this is so terrible.’
‘Eric, what is?’ Gladys said.
‘First your dog, then your cat, now the fish. It’s too much, I don’t think I can take it.’
Gladys and I both looked at one another. ‘Hold the phone,’ we said. ‘Eric, where are you from?’
‘That’s a place? How do you receive post?’
‘Wales, I’m from Wales.’
Gladys and I both gripped each other and stood up. ‘Sweet Kris, mother of Kim, we know what’s wrong.’
Eric leapt to his feet. ‘What?’
‘Californians aren’t like us. They don’t respond to all of our womanly charms, because they are too cool.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘So maybe all our womanly charms don’t work here, but we ain’t short of cool. Are we, Gladys?’
‘Oh, hell no.’
Half an hour later, Gladys, Eric and I all stood outside the hottest nightclub in all of Hollywood: The Hollywood Z Club on Hollywood Boulevard.
In that jam-packed half hour, we’d been back to the waxwork museum and borrowed a waxwork. Gladys had changed into a blonde wig, a pink dress and purchased some diamonds, we’d found Michael Jackson and Elvis in a pensioners’ bingo hall and invited them on a night out, found a stray dog, which was totally Gladys’ idea and one, I would like to say, I was actually a little uncomfortable with, and I’d changed into a black dress with pearls. We all stomped to the front of the queue.
‘And who might you lot be?’ said two muscular doormen with their arms folded.
‘What, little ol’ me? Audrey, Audrey Hepburn, a little older but in the flesh,’ I said, fluttering my eyelids. ‘Meet my associate, Marilyn.’
Gladys pulled one of her long pink gloves up, held out the back of her hand towards the doormen and giggled. ‘Marilyn Monroe, still alive and kicking. Lovely to meet you, boys.’
‘And meet James Dean and his brother, Eric.’
The doormen squinted their eyes. ‘That’s a waxwork.’
‘We know, but we wanted you to appreciate the likeness. Moving on, please meet Elvis and Michael.’
The doormen looked Elvis and Michael up and down, inspecting their badly sewn costumes and wonky wigs. For a moment, we thought we were busted, but then they said, ‘Haven’t you two aged?’
‘And meet Lassie.’
And then it happened. Without a moment’s hesitation, both doormen parted and the double doors of the club that stood between us and celebrity heaven swung open. We shuffled forward just as a huge plume of smoke blew in our faces. The doormen shouted, ‘Have a great evening, everyone’, as we stepped into the smoke.
We were in, and it was everything that we dreamed it would be. At the bar, Lassie ended up proving her weight in gold. It was so packed that we thought we might not ever get a drink, but when Lassie let out a woof, the crowd seemed to part like butter and we all slid to the front.
And that’s when it all began.
‘I got this,’ Gladys said as she held us all back with both arms out wide.
She raised her hand and pointed at a passing bartender who was midway through hurling a Pina Colada in the air. ‘I want everything on your cocktail list,’ Gladys said firmly to him.
The waiter ground to a halt and held both hands to his cheeks, the Pina Colada landing on his head. ‘Everything? Marilyn, are you sure?’
Gladys cocked her head to one side. ‘I said everything. Boop-boop-de-doop.’
It was epic, and about an hour later and I found myself swaying next to the bar with Lassie and Elvis, who were doing their best to hold me upright, when I noticed something. I gripped Elvis. ‘Wheresh Gladys?’
Elvis scratched his head. ‘Oh, she said something, like, hold my beer, and then disappeared.’
Eric swayed back and forth. ‘Yeeeessss, Audrywaudry.’
‘Spreads outsh, we musst finds Marilyns.’
Elvis and I gave each other a knowing nod and then I watched through glassy eyes as Elvis began spinning his arm in huge circles. Using his windmill, I catapulted myself towards the dancefloor, gripping tightly onto Eric and Lassie as I passed.
As momentum was carrying us through the crowd, we passed two unmistakable faces throwing shapes on the dancefloor: Dotty and Delilah from Australia, the hardcore yoga guests from our hotel. They were the absolute last people I thought would ever be in a place like this, but I had no time to contemplate it; before I knew it we’d smacked straight into a droid.
Then Lassie let out a woof, just as a flash of pink flew overhead. We all looked up and gasped—it was Gladys, twenty foot in the air, swinging on a rope swing, still dressed as Marilyn Monroe and pissed as a fart. We all screamed to her, ‘Nooooo, Gladys, noooo!’ and instantly regretted it.
Gladys lost her balance and fell from the skies straight onto Dotty and Delilah who were mid-robot. The whole room seemed to stop still as Eric, Lassie and I hurled people out of the way and ran over. ‘Gladys, Gladys are you okay?’ we all wailed, now sober as judges.
At the hospital later on, we all got in deep trouble when every single doctor in A&E dropped what they were doing, huddled around us, put their hands on their hips, and proceeded to tell us that not only was it unacceptable taking a stray dog on a night out (we all pointed at Gladys who was lying on a hospital bed), but it was also unacceptable stealing a waxwork (we all pointed at Gladys), unacceptable picking up old men in fancy dress from bingo halls (we all pointed at Gladys), unacceptable drinking every cocktail on a cocktail menu (we all pointed at Gladys), totally unacceptable getting on a rope swing when you’re blotted (we all pointed at Gladys), and thoroughly unacceptable wearing a zebra kaftan on a night out (Eric pointed at himself).
It also turned out that Californian doctors are just as whiny and overprotective as the British ones. They wanted to keep Gladys in for observation, but after a quiet word in another room, Gladys made it perfectly clear that she was perfectly fine and they had absolutely no chance.
* * *
The next evening, Gladys and I carefully lowered ourselves into our seats in the truth room and gripped our tummies.
Eventually, the rest of the guests in the hotel arrived and took a seat around a large circular table. Across from us, I spotted Dotty and Delilah. Dotty had a small plaster on her forehead and they both had their heads down. I shouted over, ‘Hey, what happened to you two last night? You both disappeared after the fall. Is your head all right?’
Dotty and Delilah instantly clamped their eyes shut and began meditating. I whispered to Gladys, ‘Cheeky cows, what’s up with them?’
‘Don’t know, maybe they don’t want High Mistress Breeze to know they were partying.’
‘Makes sense, I suppose.’
Finally, High Mistress Breeze and her husband arrived and took a seat.
‘Are we missing somebody?’ High Mistress Breeze said.
‘Donna,’ Gladys said with a smile.
‘That’s strange, her name was on the sign-up form. Has anybody seen her?’ Everybody shook their heads. ‘Right, well I suppose we should get started, maybe she’ll turn up.’
Eric lowered the lights which set Gladys and me off on a yawning spree.
High Mistress Breeze closed her eyes and spoke in a monotone voice. ‘Oh great spirits of the Yosemite, we call upon you to communicate with us, use the glass on the table to spell your name, point to the letters on the paper.’
Gladys stared at the shabby, hand-drawn piece of paper on the table with a glass in the middle of it and snorted, ‘Yeah, right.’
‘Oh great spirits, please communicate with us.’
There was nothing.
‘Please, speak to us,’ High Mistress Breeze wailed.
‘Pretty please, with a cherry on top.’
Gladys threw her hands in the air. ‘I am so hungover and I seriously don’t need this cra—’
Suddenly the glass shot to the letter “G” on the paper.
‘That’s right, speak to us, tell us what you want,’ High Mistress Breeze said.
Everyone sat forward and began looking around at each other with eyes wide open. I spotted Scotty McHappy across from me, hugging himself and whimpering. I could tell, as I scanned the terrified faces sat around the table, that none of us expected it to be real.
Then the glass began to pick up speed, and we all began loudly announced the letters in unison. ‘G. O. P. Z. I. L. L. A.’
I cupped my face. ‘God’s actually talking to us. This is a miracle.’
Scotty McHappy shouted over to me. ‘No, Grace. Godzilla, as in the bloody big gorilla Godzilla.’
‘ARLGH.’ I leapt to my feet and gripped my mouth to stop vomit from projecting out of my mouth. ‘Gorilla ghosts, this is the worst day of my life!’
Then something I didn’t expect happened. High Mistress Breeze stood up and slammed her hands into the table. ‘Who did this? Come on, that’s not funny, who the hell is up to this?’ She eyed everyone around the table.
I inhaled air at an alarming rate. ‘What the hell do you mean?’ I bellowed. ‘You were the one who called the spirits of dead gorillas. Now we’re all going to die and you’re, like, who did this?’
‘Yer aff yer heid! All a ya,’ Scotty McHappy ran screaming out of the room, followed by his wife, Anna, who kept apologising profusely for his whimpish behaviour.
I gripped onto Gladys. ‘Why, why is this happening?’
Gladys just sat there yawning. ‘This is absolutely ridic …’
High Mistress Breeze and her husband stomped out of the room and slammed the door shut, quickly followed by the rest of the guests who gripped each other and whispered to one another as they left.
Once everyone had gone, Eric turned the lights back up and sat next to the light switch with his hand over his mouth. ‘I feel so ill,’ he said, ‘and now we’ve got to track down a bunch of squirrel hunters.’
I stood up. ‘Eric, what the hell was that about?’
‘You don’t know?’
‘Gopzilla was the guest staying here at the hotel who went missing last year. He was the Hollywood executive who checked in, slept the night and by next morning he was missing. I didn’t meet him myself. Caused a huge to-do in Hollywood, it did. High Mistress Breeze has been really upset about it. It looked really bad on the business, all that gossip it caused.’
Gladys sat forward. ‘Did he eat breakfast here by any chance? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the sausages, would it?’
‘Gopzilla.’ I tutted, as I rubbed my head. ‘At least it’s not a gorilla ghost. Thought I was going to pass out then.’
Eric suddenly clapped his hands together. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘A mystery. We are in the middle of our very own mystery. Like a Columbo murder mystery.’ Eric started jumping up and down and clapping his hands. ‘Ohh, ohh, we are! This is so exciting. We could be like Ghostbusters, all three of us … a team.’
‘Or Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ Gladys said as she and Eric bounced around.
‘More like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,’ I said.
Eric stopped jumping. ‘We should solve the mystery. We could call it “Operation Squirrel”. What do you reckon, Gladys, Grace, what do you think?
‘Or we could call it “I think I’m going to throw up”,’ I said, gripping my mouth.