“We are say-ring…passing high crowds…” Roy and I listened politely to our host, Muraki Kanso the artist, as he mangled the Rod Stewart classic on his guitar. We were settled into the Gothic castle style lounge of the house he shared with his sleekly blonde American wife Sally. As a couple they lived very comfortably; the art commanded respectable prices and Sally was at the top of the executive ladder at Christies Auctions. Although Muraki’s cherished ambition to become a rock star had so far been hampered by the small and inconsequential snag of a complete inability to carry a tune, he was not one to be held back and was pleased to grasp the chance of a jam with a fellow musician. Indisputably though he excelled in his career as an artist, painting window sized and detailed Art Deco tableaux of beautiful women, adding his own Japanese flavour to the style of them. I longed to own one and hoped he might bung one in our direction but instead, on a tour of his home studio, he’d decided to execute a simple Japanese line drawing of a woman with a guitar, which he gifted to Roy. I couldn’t say it wasn’t a pleasure to see him masterfully capture an image with spare, well-placed dashes of charcoal. I also couldn’t say I preferred it to one of his full-scale prints but I tried not to be churlish and kept my trap shut for once.
Muraki had a seemingly permanent houseguest called Lars, who despite his touted Swedish ancestry was tall but with unruly black curls topping his wide face. He claimed to be availing himself of their faux Bavarian guesthouse only until his foreign millions came through to American accounts. Meanwhile, he lived in a style he vowed he was accustomed to, splashing out on bottles of Crystal champagne and ordering lavish take-out meals from expensive restaurants. Lars immediately latched on to Roy upon meeting him and became a fixture at our rented house at weekends, showing up in ever more exotic cars, bearing gifts from prestigious Beverly Hills showrooms and laden with sushi platters to feed at least a dozen people. One night Lars took it upon himself to treat a large group of our friends to dinner at the hottest new nightclub; the tab must have run into the hundreds with the vintage champagne he ostentatiously ordered. When the check came he confidently slapped down a platinum Amex, quickly waving it away though not before I’d clocked that the name on the card was Sally, Muraki’s wife. Catching my sideways glance, Lars assured me that he had been added to the account. I filed the information away, not placing much significance to it.
In the summer of 1987 we had been renting a three-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills thanks to a Loni Anderson look-alike realtor who unashamedly revelled in the name of Mary Christmas and drove the cheesiest Seventies car I ever saw, bedecked with mirrors and a burgundy velvet interior. (Relevant to nothing, but you know how I love a digression). Tucked away behind trees, the one story house had a rock-surrounded pool and airy rooms decorated in Californian ivory linen tones and generic Spanish tiled floors, although we’d begun to tire of the frequent problems with the aging plumbing. Dealing with the landlady was frustrating. She seemed to be a frail and frizzy haired remnant of the Sixties who had taken one too many acid trips and she swung from outbursts of vehemence to spouting absent minded nonsense, losing the trail of a conversation mid sentence. If pressed to be responsible for house maintenance she’d claim all her money was being funnelled into the big cat sanctuary owned by Doris Day, who happened to be her mother-in-law. It was several weeks before it dawned upon us that her husband, therefore, was Terry Melcher, infamous for producing the music of Charles Manson. When we unearthed some hastily scribbled sheet music in the piano stool annotated by ‘Charlie’ we had a middle England meltdown, clutching each other in light hysteria and flapping about in a panic. My nerves had already been shredded by several encounters with scorpions who conspired to hove into view every time Roy left the house, stranding me whimpering with legs drawn up on the coffee table until such time when he would eventually return with his good stamping shoes on. Thus when Lars offered us a rental belonging to a friend of his just off Sunset Boulevard we were ready to leap at it. The story was that Lars had been poised to move in but selflessly would give us first refusal instead. However, the house failed to materialize within the promised week and I was uncomfortable with what seemed to be a very laissez faire attitude to any formal agreement. Roy told me I was being obstinate; it would save us three thousand a month. Sensing the deal falling through, Lars hastily supplied another option. His best friend owned a house in the flatland of Beverly Hills that could be ours if we wanted it; the occupants wouldn’t be using it until later in the year when back from touring Europe. If we liked, we could have a look around and see if we thought it would suit us. We arranged to meet Lars at the house one afternoon. It was a handsome 1940’s Spanish style mansion, three storeys and six bedrooms, surrounded by tall trees that gave it privacy and shrouded it in pools of dark shade. The garden stretched back beyond the house, which sat imposingly on a corner lot encompassing a tennis court. Roy fell in love with it on sight. Having met us outside, stepping adroitly out of an Aston Martin DB5, Lars sheepishly admitted that he had forgotten the keys but if we waited, he knew the combination to the garden door in the alleyway and would let us in forthwith. In no time at all, he bounced to the front door and welcomed us into the vast, beamed ceiling entrance hall. Inside, it was apparent that the last time the house had seen an interior decorator had to have been 1971. Shabby emerald green carpets clashed with orange walls and musty brown tartan couches. Although I’d been expecting the condition to be rental ready, clear of personal effects, photographs and clothes, it seemed as if the owners had just stepped out that morning; the desk in the heavily panelled study was cluttered with papers and food lay on the counters. Lars explained that he sometimes used the place and occasionally house sat, and if the lease were approved, the house would be cleaned and bare in three days. He certainly knew his way around as if he lived there. I pulled Roy aside and hissed in his ear. “I don’t like this at all. It’s creepy,” “Shut up. It’s great,” he said briskly. “We can tolerate the furniture if it’s saving us thousands. It’s got spare rooms for recording equipment and there’s tennis – you’re just looking for something to complain about, as usual,” Digging my husband in the ribs, I said we’d have to think about it before making a decision. Alone with Roy later in the evening, I voiced misgivings about the venture and said my instincts were yelling no. I didn’t like the lack of paperwork and thought it sounded risky but was reluctantly persuaded to have another look around the next day after an exhaustive hour of argument. Lars later broke the news on the phone that due to our hesitation the owners had expressed second thoughts and decided to lend it instead to a family member who was in town, causing Roy to fume that I’d blown a really good deal and refuse to speak to me for three days. I didn’t care. The house had given me the willies.
We stayed where we were. Our last few months of renting passed by quickly enough until we headed back to England to pack up our home before the final permanent move to LA. Slouched in front of the television one evening in our Essex house, Roy answered the telephone. It was the Beverly Hills Police. It was a mystery how they’d managed to hunt down an unlisted number for us in England but their reach was long and alarming. Lars had been arrested in a stolen Mercedes and cited Roy as being the owner. However, the police had, by their own tracking methods, been able to establish that the owner of the car was none other than Sylvester Stallone and the detective demanded to know why we were claiming it as ours. Lars was also under investigation for credit card fraud and an impressive pile of other felonies. Sally’s platinum Amex sprang to mind. Satisfied for the time being that we were absolved of collusion, the detective rang off, warning us that if further infractions came to light he’d be back on the phone if it seemed likely we’d had some involvement. We quaked for days with the unshakeable sense of impending arrest you get when you’ve done nothing wrong, with melodramatic visions of the first recorded extradition from Billericay to Beverly Hills going down just as we innocently headed for bed with hot cocoa. Now the potential rental property made sense. Far from forgetting the keys, Lars had merely barged into an unoccupied house, his largesse at showing us around nothing more than a front for common burglary. Doubtless he had been hoping we would stump up three months rent in advance which he would then ‘pass on’ to his friends. We’d had a narrow escape from a glib and practiced con man. Not so lucky had been Muraki and Sally, who were out to the tune of thousands on their American Express bill. Possibly Muraki was already gently weeping with guitar. I could picture him strumming. “Passing high crowds…to be near you…to be flea…” Providing subsequent hours of idle entertainment for us was Mr. Stallone, as we wondered what he’d been had for, aside from, of course, a brand new Mercedes but what happened to Lars remains in the dusty annals of Beverly Hills Police records. We never did find out.
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