Chapter One

Wednesday, August 1, 1962

Brentwood, California

The first time David Dengler saw Marilyn Monroe, she was sitting on her haunches on the front step of her concrete house in Brentwood, California, sweeping leaves away from the stone walk with a hose. She wore faded pink pedal pushers, a gray Jamaican blouse that left her stomach exposed, and cheap Mexican sandals. Her bleached hair was a gaggle of strands, leaderless and unkempt which caught the light like cotton candy, a swirl of sugar and white gold.

She was ordinary.

She was beautiful.

Dengler had no chance but to think these two apparently contradictory thoughts before returning his attention to driving. He was heading for the end of a cul-de-sac named 5th Helena Drive. It was a narrow blacktop road no wider than an alley, all of a hundred yards deep and providing access to a handful of exclusive homes hidden behind walls or fences, each with its own style and identity. Dengler braked the Ford Falcon at 5th Helena Drive’s end, a curb-less brick wall, backed the car up enough to turn it around, and returned the way he came, proceeding slowly enough to catch another glimpse of the film goddess as he went by.

She was now facing the opposite direction, pointing the hose along the angle of her hips, wiping hair back out of her face with a free hand. She might have been a housewife, although her husband would have been, in the parlance of men, “one lucky son-of-a-bitch.”

Dengler braked. It was an involuntary act. The car slowed to a crawl. Marilyn Monroe didn’t look up, her mind seemingly far away, lost in thoughts he could never know. She appeared half-immortal, a creature greater than he or anyone who wasn’t a star, and half-mortal, wearing clothes which were not perfect, with a roll of flesh at her midriff that wouldn’t have been there ten years before, a divine creature in descent.

Like a child who has seen the same person looking down at him from a crib’s edge every day, Dengler was thrilled by Monroe’s face. He wanted to stop and engage her in conversation, make her laugh at some silly thing he said, beckon to touch her, even, in the way of a toddler whose arms can’t quite reach the adult above him. Nonetheless he was aware he was in the presence of the most desired woman of the age, a goddess of the neon world, more famous even than Helen of Troy. Yet here she was, spraying leaves from her walk, guiding a rainbow of water droplets with the shake of a wrist, as human, and ordinary as any hometown girl.

Dengler accelerated suddenly as she began to look up.

Three days before, Dengler had attended a graduation ceremony at Fort Lee, Virginia. In the company of fellow students he opened his orders and read, in part: You are to proceed to Los Angeles California, arriving on or about August 1, 1962, there to locate the person of Marilyn Monroe, motion picture celebrity. By means of surveillance, while remaining inconspicuous and unidentified, you are to determine the location of her residence, places of frequency, associates, incidentals, and details relating to her. You are to prepare a dossier, which may be compared to and contrasted with existing documentation from prior surveillance, for the purpose of evaluating your field operative ability, both learned and native. These orders are to be signed, dated and returned to Commanding Officer, United States Army Military Intelligence Training School (USAMITS), Fort Lee, Virginia, prior to execution.

From that instant to this, from the Virginia birches and clapboard barracks of Fort Lee, Virginia, to the white-washed concrete of Monroe’s Brentwood house with its red, Spanish tile roof and gaping driveway gate, Dengler had tingled with the knowledge of his extraordinary good fortune.

Dengler expected far less for his graduation exercise, the assignment to follow a small town politician, possibly, or a local television personality. Almost any ‘public person’ would do. Few undergraduates were assigned to someone really famous. Still, here Dengler was, in Los Angeles, California, having steered down the same tiny street Monroe drove home on each day, tires in the same ruts, with the same cul-de-sac wall her eyes saw daily framed in the windshield before him. Finally, there was the woman herself, mortally near, watering her lawn with a garden hose, private in her thoughts and Dengler closer to her than any other human being on earth.

David Dengler knew very well what the assignment to surveil Marilyn Monroe was. Add something new to the dossier of a small town politician and the yawns of his instructors would combine to blow him out of the classroom. Discover something new about Monroe, something the scores of trainees before him missed, and Dengler’s enterprise might eventually lead to an invitation to join the CIA or the FBI once his Army enlistment was up. Dengler knew very well what Monroe was — she was opportunity.

The man Marilyn Monroe failed to look up and see that morning was twenty-four years old, old for an Army Military Intelligence recruit, a muscular six-footer with gray eyes and bland brown hair. His expression was almost always taciturn in appearance — more than once in his life he’d needed to tell people this was the way he always looked, in order to explain to them he wasn’t angry or depressed. As counter-balance, there was his accent, a mild southern twang whose more gruesome nuances he controlled visibly and without grace. He strove for a mid-west delivery, and occasionally achieved it. Still, the twang had the effect of rendering his persona harmless, as Southern accents so often do.

He arrived that morning from Fort Lee, Virginia by way of National Airport, Washington D.C., on a Boeing 707. He’d never flown before.

It took Dengler two hours to find Monroe’s address. It was part of the challenge. He arrived in Los Angeles with her name, simply that, with no other knowledge about her except what he could distill from fan magazines and the like. Still, two hours later he drove by her house on 5th Helena Drive for the first time, having tricked a Pacific Bell office manager into divulging where one of his most famous clients lived. Dengler used one of his phony IDs — he and a friend at Fort Lee had concocted three of them — to convince the Pacific Bell manager Dengler was a postal inspector who needed to review Monroe’s telephone bill. There was an issue of Monroe having received some threatening calls and mail, Dengler told the Pacific Bell manager, and he was working to link the two.

12305 5th Helena Drive was located below Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood, which Dengler found described in Los Angeles: Introduction To The City as, “a Bentley compared to Beverly Hills’ Rolls Royce. Brentwood is greener, more wooded, more Bohemian, and very ritzy. It is the sort of place where bachelors go to live before marriage takes them away to more sedate neighborhoods.”

Earlier Dengler drove by 5th Helena Drive several times. There were actually over thirty Helena Drives, each flowing into or out of Carmelina Avenue, a wide north-south artery that fed the east-west city jugular known as Sunset Boulevard. On his first pass by the open gate of Monroe’s house Dengler saw a two-tone cream-and-green 1956 Ford parked just inside the driveway. Cleaning lady, he’d guessed. It was on this earlier go-round that Dengler noted the yard was shouldered by trees, two of them close enough to the wall to provide quick access to the ground.

Dengler then drove to nearby Westwood Village, a college town which lay at the feet of UCLA, and rented a second car, a Chevrolet Corvair convertible. He parked the Corvair on Hilgarde Street near Sorority Row. He would revolve the two cars through the surveillance area to avoid detection.

It was then Dengler drove the Falcon past Monroe’s driveway a second time and caught the film star watering her lawn. The 1955 Ford was gone.

Dengler made a right on Carmelina Avenue and pulled the Falcon to the curb. For a long moment, he sat completely still. It was an effort to be motionless. It was an effort not to step from the vehicle and shout. It was as if someone had pulled open a giant door, like one of those Hollywood sound stage doors, and he’d walked onto the world’s set. He was a player now, a cast member, not a star certainly, but a performer as much as Monroe herself.

For the first time, it all seemed real.

Later, how much later Dengler couldn’t recall, he placed the Falcon in drive and took the car to Sunset Boulevard and right. He drove east until he found a motel near the San Diego Freeway (called that not because it was located anywhere near San Diego, but because it went there, eventually). He rented a room for the week and paid in advance.

At a quarter after six he took a shower, and then wearing only a towel sat down at the writing desk and opened a composition book he’d brought from Virginia. At the top of the first page he wrote:


Monroe, Marilyn

Address: 12305 5th Helena Drive, Brentwood, California

Description: House is Spanish or Mediterranean style; of concrete construction; relatively small, one or two bedrooms; surrounded by brick wall painted white which creates a compound when wood gate is closed.

Observation: Drive-by at 4:35 P.M. 8/1/62 witnessed a cream/green (over/under) 1956 Ford Crown Victoria parked in driveway, Cal. License HYM 726. Housekeeper?

5:19 P.M.: Saw Monroe.

You are U.S. Army Military Intelligence trainee David Dengler. Following Army M.I. protocol, you are sent on a training exercise to a city you’ve never visited before and ordered to surveil a public person (‘public persons’ having little recourse if their privacy is invaded). You can’t believe your good fortune. You draw the assignment to surveil Marilyn Monroe. It is early August, 1962, and you have just been made a witness to the murder of Hollywood’s biggest star.

Red Mist is a fast-paced thriller that recreates the world of 1960s America, a decade obsessed with sex, violence, and espionage. Follow David Dengler as he flees from unknown assassins, and struggles to stay alive as dark forces compress him from all sides, driving him to a rendezvous with death... in Dealey Plaza.

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Chapter One

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