The maid has brought in a plate with several jumbo shrimp curled in a pink heap and hands it to the woman on the vast, pillow-piled bed.
Elizabeth Adams cleans the shrimp swiftly, chopping them into shreds and piling them onto a blue and white Chinese saucer.
A smoke-gray Persian cat that has been lolling across a Battenberg lace pillow on the antique mahogany desk steps loftily onto a marble-topped table, and thence onto the bed. The shrimp is for him, as it is every day.
"So handsome," purrs the heavyset woman fondly, explaining that Georgie the cat, the king of a clowder of a dozen adored Persians, is "the love of my life." And if, at age 55, the time comes that she has to go to prison, well, that's what would break her heart--leaving Georgie.
When she first bought this house in the hills above the Sunset Strip, Elizabeth Adams had it painted green, mindful of the old wives' notion that lucky green attracts money.
And so, allegedly, it has.
From this blue and white bedroom, police say, Adams--a.k.a. Alex Fleming and a half dozen other names--has run the most lavish, the most lucrative and perhaps the most genteel prostitution business on the West Coast. It was, they say, an international network dispatching charming young women to Saudi princes and millionaire businessmen, to costly Beverly Hills hotel suites, to Europe, to Bahamas cruises.
Below, beyond the line of sight of the swimming pool and antique-appointed rooms, are the gone-to-seediness stretches of Hollywood, where raw and rough hookers turn a trick for as little as $20, and some men argue for a discount. Up here, police say, elegant young prostitutes--some of whom have adorned the pages of magazines like Penthouse--were sent forth to ply a pricier trade: $300 for two hours, $1,000 a night and $2,000 a day for out-of-town trips.
The sums were paid without a murmur, police say, by men like a sheik who ordered up a companion for his son's Colorado ski trip; often there were tips--cash, diamond trinkets. One woman reportedly found her baksheesh outside: a Mercedes with a mink coat draped over the seat.
It was an enterprise managed for almost a decade by the thin reins of a telephone cord, police say, connecting Adams to the women who earned the money, and to the men who paid it. Of each $1,000, $400 went to Adams herself, often at a rate of $100,000 or more a month, police allege.
The money, the quality of "girls," the caliber of clients, says Los Angeles Police Detective Alan Vanderpool, made Adams' business "the best," the top of the pyramid of the hundreds of prostitution services of every stripe here.
But pandering is illegal, whether the toll is $20 or $2,000. And with two arrests this spring, prosecutors are seeking to put an end to the discreet business Elizabeth Adams allegedly ran from the white bed in her orchid-filled master bedroom, catering to a network of rich clients on almost every continent.
"I had a very good run," Adams says of an enterprise she describes as "like a dating service."
"If it was legal, I wouldn't give it up, ever. The wonderful people you meet, people you'd only read about. Mostly it's lonely people who want a beautiful companion who's nice and polite and well groomed and listens to them. People call them hookers and prostitutes," but such clients "wouldn't be seen with girls like that."
Besides facing a preliminary hearing in November on felony charges of pandering and receiving stolen property, Adams is under investigation for money laundering, officials say.
From four other prostitution-related arrests since 1972, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Ferrero, came one early felony conviction, one misdemeanor guilty plea, fines and probation.
"I didn't want to file a felony that would end up as a misdemeanor," Ferrero said in court last month. "Anything that happened in the past was not going to happen again."
For a long time, police say, they knew what Adams was up to. Getting to her was another matter.
Detectives Vanderpool and Patricia Corso routinely bust escort service women who are happy to turn in their panderers. Those who worked for Adams, according to Vanderpool, and who he said numbered as many as 150, were altogether different--defiant and "so loyal."
Little wonder. Adams was their fairy godmother to a jet-set life. Girls who may not have finished high school suddenly saw New York restaurants flung open for them, were handed $1,000 for a day's shopping in Hong Kong, sailed the Caribbean aboard yachts, sources said. "It's just like going on a date, but you get paid for it," Adams said in a tape-recorded talk with an undercover policewoman posing as a prospective prostitute. "You never made money like this in your life."
It was, police say, strictly a telephone business; Adams knew her clients by voice. Trying to crack so impenetrable a setup, a policeman once flew to Chicago, checked into a hotel and phoned Adams back in Los Angeles to persuade her he was a lonely out-of-town big-shot.