As we approach the release of One Angel Less (Hollywood Newshawk Book 2), we have one more preview that we want to share. This is an “Extra” (as in “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”), a brief one-shot that’s closer to a short story.
This one tells the story of The City Burns at Night from Trudy’s point of view. But what’s more, it tells exactly what happened in Wade’s office after her screen test. It doesn’t spoil everything for One Angel Less, but you get to start the mystery knowing just a little more than Miller does.
Oh, and there’s one more thing. This title isn’t for sale. It’s a an exclusive available only to members of The Black Spectre Covert League. Just one of several free perks we offer to our loyal Operatives.
One Angel Less is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Coming March 30, 2021!
DREAMS DIE AT SUNSET
An incredible dream come true that became an unbelievable nightmare!
After spending a hardscrabble year in Hollywood, things were really looking up for Trudy Wilkes. She was working as an extra on the new Myrna Davis picture. She had a brand new suitor, Daily Crusader newshawk Tom Miller. And best of all, he’d managed to snag her an exclusive screen test with top director William Wade!
But nothing in Hollywood is as it seems. And in one unbelievable night, her dreams aren’t the only thing that face death!
IT ALL STARTED out as the best day of my entire life. But then it turned into the absolute worst. An incredible dream-come-true that became an unbelievable nightmare. And to top it all off, that was only the beginning.
I was on the lot at Metropolitan Pictures in Hollywood. But this time I was actually there for my very own screen test!
And directed by William Wade himself! One of the most famous directors in all of Hollywood!
What was even more amazing was that Tom, my new fella, had helped me get it. He’s Tom Miller, that hero reporter who writes for the Los Angeles Chronicle. But more about him later. Don’t want to get ahead of myself.
I’ll never forget that feeling of being bathed in the overhead studio lights. Now I’d been on sets before, mind you. I’d done my share of extra work. In fact, my friend Anita and I were already playing temple virgins right over on Stage 18.
But this was the very first time I was ever front and center. With all eyes on just me and no one else. It was more than a little nerve-wracking, I’ll tell you that.
Thank goodness I wasn’t wearing my temple virgin costume. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination, unfortunately. Then I’d have been far too embarrassed to even utter a peep!
Anyway, we were shooting my test on the set of Mr. Wade’s latest picture. It’s called Never Regret Tomorrow, and stars Barbara Neal. The set was a high-rise apartment in Manhattan.
At least that’s what Eleanor told me. She’s Mr. Wade’s personal assistant. Such a sweet lady, too. A no-nonsense, get-things-done kind of woman. But just as friendly as she could be. Reminded me of my Aunt Helen.
Eleanor told me the picture was about a woman named Jane who was in the worst kind of trouble. Jane and her brand new husband had just gotten back from their honeymoon and everything was rosy as it could be. But then one day, while the husband is at work, her old boyfriend (Dan Fuller) shows up. And he actually threatens that, if she doesn’t pay him hundreds of dollars, he’ll reveal her criminal past!
It sounded like a real pot-boiler, that’s for sure. Jane has no idea how she’s going to get out of this mess. Only that wasn’t the half of it. Because then she actually kills him! By accident!
I used to think stories like these were all just hogwash. Sometimes you’d read about something like that in the paper. But it would never happen to most people. Especially not anyone you knew, that’s for sure.
Of course, that would all change soon enough.
Eleanor also told me something else. She said it was very unusual for Mr. Wade to shoot a screen test. Something like that was always just handled by an assistant director or even a cameraman. No one’s looking to make art. They just want to see how you look on film.
She said it was even more unusual while he’s working on a picture. He’s always so busy, he just never has the time for something menial like this. But for some reason, this time he wanted to do it himself. Even offered to fit me in during a break.
All that just left me wondering. Maybe he saw something in me? Who knew? Maybe Tom was right. Maybe I would be going home in a limo. But Eleanor did say that Mr. Wade was doing it as a special favor for someone.
And not just Tom.
I found out later that the someone in question was actually Irene Faye.
That’s right, the Irene Faye. The big movie star. Or, I should say, former movie star, to be honest. Her career wasn’t actually going very well. In fact, she hadn’t made a picture in a couple of years. Not since she and her husband, Derek Saltzman, had that big falling out. You might remember. It was all pretty nasty.
But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
Anyway, that’s what all was running through my head while I was standing there on the set, waiting for Mr. Wade.
When he finally came in, well everyone just jumped right into action. I barely got a glimpse before he took a seat in his director’s chair to study my resume and head shots.
He looked exactly the same as when I saw him at W.H. Harper’s party just a few weeks earlier. Broad shoulders. Wavy, grey hair. Studious expression. I’ll even admit, he was quite handsome. The only thing different from before was the reading glasses.
Finally, he glanced up and instructed, “All right, Miss Wilkes, we’re ready to begin.”
That was the cue for Jimmy, the young freckle-faced AD, to step in front of the camera. He raised the clapper board and shouted, “Trudy Wilkes screen test, roll ‘em!”
The loud CRACK! as he snapped it shut really got my attention!
First Mr. Wade had me turn to the right. Then to the left. And then all the way around. Once he had me facing forward again, he said, “Now if you don’t mind, Miss Wilkes, please state your name for the camera, and tell us where you’re from.”
I cleared my throat as delicately as I could and began. “Hello, my name is Trudy Wilkes and I’m from Dayton, Ohio. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for just over a year now.”
He looked at me like I’d just said something very interesting then went back to my headshots. “And what brings you to Hollywood, Miss Wilkes?”
“Well,” I blushed, “I don’t think it would surprise anyone here that I want to be an actress. In fact, I’ve wanted to be one for just as long as I can remember.”
He must’ve been reading my resume word-for-word, because he went straight back to it and asked me about it. “It says here that you were first runner-up in the Miss Corn Husker Beauty Pageant.”
“Yes Sir, that’s correct,” I confirmed. Now, I can’t say it was my proudest accomplishment. But it got me out of secretarial school. And a train ticket out West.
“Second place, eh?” he looked up from my headshots for a change. “If you don’t mind my asking, what happened to the gal who came in first?”
“Oh,” I told him, “she found herself a husband!” The whole crew got a good chuckle out of that one.
“Well then,” Mr. Wade told me, “let’s hope you find yourself something even better.”
IT WAS a couple of weeks ago when I met Tom. You see, my friend Anita got a waitressing job at a party in Malibu. She’s actually been my best friend ever since I moved to Los Angeles. She’s my roommate at Mrs. Young’s boarding house for girls in West Hollywood. We even work together at Schwab’s.
Boy was I surprised when I found out just who was hosting this little soirée! She told me it was being given by W.H. Harper (that’s right, the W.H. Harper, the newspaper magnate) at the beachfront mansion he’d bought for his girlfriend. The less said about that part, the better, as it’s my understanding that Mrs. Harper still lives in New York.
Anita always looks out for me. Well, all except for one particular time. But ever since then she’s done her level best to help me meet people and find work. She even gave up a job for me once (more on that in a minute).
Anyway, she knew that everybody who was anybody would be there. So she did what any self-respecting friend would do and snuck me in. I’ll be honest and tell you that I almost chickened out. But Anita talked me into it.
And I’m really glad she did. Because just like she said, there were a lot a recognizable people there! I just couldn’t believe it. Everywhere you looked there was somebody famous! Movie stars, producers, directors, financial big wigs. You name it! I could barely contain myself!
That’s the first time I saw Mr. Wade in person. I really wanted to talk to him. But he was always hobnobbing with somebody else. Deep in conversation. And I just didn’t want to be rude.
That was also the first time I saw Irene Faye. She really was just as beautiful in person as she is up on the screen. Maybe even more so. I’d just die to have long, blonde hair like that. She sure turned a lot of heads that night.
Soon as I spotted her, my first thought was that it was just too bad her husband ruined her career. But I guess that’s what happens when you take shortcuts.
Wish I could say that was the only time I saw her, too. But it wasn’t. Same goes for Mr. Wade.
And, unfortunately, I can’t say that I actually met anyone important, either. Not in the industry, anyway. I’ll admit it, I was just too shy on my own. Maybe if I’d had Anita there prodding me. But she was too busy working. And working her own angles.
I did meet somebody important in another way, though. That would be Tom. And that turned out to be more than enough. I can thank Anita for that, too.
There’s just one more thing I have to tell you about Anita. We weren’t always the best of friends. To be perfectly honest, we actually kind of got off to a rough start.
You see, she and I are opposites in just about every way. She’s the kind of girl everyone loves. Blonde, pretty, and loads of fun to be around. She wasn’t much older than me, maybe a year, but she was certainly wiser. If you get my meaning. She grew up in Terminal City, Illinois and, well, you just wouldn’t believe all the stories. So it’s no surprise that she was a lot better at working her way around the system.
Me, I’m more what you would call homespun. I guess I’m pretty enough. I never really thought so, but as you already know, I was first runner-up in the Miss Corn Husker Pageant back home. And that was enough to get me to Los Angeles. But Anita was more of what you expect when you think of a movie star.
* * *
AS I said, we didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. We’d only been rooming together for a couple of weeks when she invited me out to a party. Nothing like the one in Malibu, mind you. This was just some friends of hers, at their apartment building in West Hollywood. Just to have a few laughs and get acquainted, she said.
I’ll tell you right now that it wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. There were all sorts of loud music, and drinking, and smoking, and who knows what-all going on upstairs.
The less said about that, the better, too. Someone had even spiked the punch bowl. And the tobacco, well, the aroma wasn’t like any tobacco I’d encountered before. I could only assume it must’ve come from Asia or somewhere.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t very long before I felt really sick.
All I wanted to do was get out of there and go back home. Not specifically to Dayton, mind you. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind. But I just couldn’t leave without Anita. Only I couldn’t find her anywhere!
I did my best to search for her. No one knew where she was. Some of them didn’t even know who she was! That’s when I realized there were a lot more people there than when we’d arrived. I had no idea where they’d even come from.
I wasn’t getting any better, so I finally just decided to leave on my own. I could take the Red Car or, if it was too late, I could just find a cab. I didn’t really have the money, but it was a sure sight better than hanging around there, I’ll tell you that much.
I’d just stepped out the front door when I noticed the street was full of red flashing lights! Oh my goodness, I had to shield my eyes it was so bright! Thank heavens, the Police were there! I was so relieved!
I went straight to the nice policeman who was coming up the walk. His name was Officer Gannon, I think. I didn’t get a first name. He had short blond hair and looked like he’d just gotten out of the Army. Might have, for all I knew.
I immediately waved to him and called out, “Oh my goodness, Officer! I really need your help! I can’t find my friend anywhere! And you need to do something about this party. It’s so loud, heaven only knows what’s going on with all the music, and the drinking, and carrying on in there.”
And do you want to know what he did?
He actually put handcuffs on me!
He didn’t listen to a single word I had to say. He just marched me straight to a Paddy Wagon and loaded me up like I was some kind of common criminal! I’ve never been so humiliated in all my life!
Of course, I had no idea it was about to get worse. A whole lot worse!
I tried to tell him, too, that I was sick. And that I really needed to go home.
But he just closed the door. Right in my face.
It was only a short while before the whole wagon was full of people. And I didn’t recognize a single one! And no matter how many times I tried to tell them this was all a mistake, that I was sick, and just needed to go home, the officers just shut the door on me again.
What’s worse is, after a few minutes, all the people in the van kept saying the same thing. Now it could’ve been that they’d all drunk the same thing I did and weren’t feeling well, either. Or they were just fibbing, hoping the police would let them out. Either way, one thing was perfectly clear.
I wasn’t going anywhere.
Once we got to the West Hollywood Police Station, they just hauled the whole lot of us inside. Treated us just like cattle. Every time I saw a police officer, I tried to tell him that it was all a mistake. And that I was getting sicker by the minute.
But still, no one would listen to me. Not even the two women police officers we encountered. I honestly don’t think they even believed me.
First they had us pose for photographs (can’t believe I actually have a mug shot). And then they took our fingerprints. Then they put all of us gals in the same holding cell. That’s when I finally saw Anita.
* * *
I WAS so relieved, I could barely contain myself. “Anita! I was looking all over for you! Where were you?“
I think she was even more surprised to see me there. “Oh, Trude (she was the only one who ever called me that), I can’t believe they nabbed you, too! Talk about barking up the wrong tree.”
Then she took a step back and gave me the once-over. “Oh honey, you don’t look so good.”
“I don’t feel so good,” I confessed.
“Well look,” she explained, “this is really no big deal, I promise you. They just want to scare you a little, that’s all.” To be honest, they were doing a pretty good job of it already.
“Soon as they get our information and fill out some reports, they’ll let us all go. Promise I’ll get you home and fix you up with some Pepto-Bismol.”
Thankfully, it was just at that moment that Officer Gannon came to the cell and called my name. Well, of course, I answered right away. Thank goodness! He opened the big cell door and just plucked me right out of there.
One of the other gals shouted, “Remember, just name, rank, and serial number!” It was a while before I ever found out what that meant.
Officer Gannon led me down the hallway to the “squad room.” It was just a big room, filled with desks, telephones, and typewriters. We actually passed the powder room on the way. I tried to tell him again that I so very much needed to stop. But just like before, he kept right on walking.
As soon as we sat down, he spooled a form into the typewriter and asked my name. I swear I was getting more blue around the gills and I told him so. “I’m sorry, but I really need to go to the powder room.”
He didn’t even look at me. He just asked me again, this time louder. “Name?”
I plain didn’t know what else to do. So I just answered him. “Trudy Wilkes. Only it’s actually Gertrude. Trudy for short.”
Then he typed it into the form. Using just two fingers. One letter. At a time.
Wished I’d just stopped at Trudy.
Well, I realized right then and there that we could take all night. I’d had enough secretarial school to where I could’ve finished my own form and a good half a dozen others before he even completed the one.
“Do you want me to type that for you?” I asked him.
Thought for sure he’d at least consider my offer. But no, he just completely ignored me again and went straight to his next question. “Address?”
I spelled it all out for him. And then I actually wondered whether or not the next two questions were regarding rank or serial number. And just how I was going to answer.
But none of that mattered, actually. Because that’s the exact moment when my poor tummy just couldn’t take it any more.
I’m ashamed to say that I actually vomited right there! All over the floor! The desk. The typewriter. And the left side of his clean, blue uniform.
It was not a pretty sight, I’ll tell you that.
Though there’s a part of me that thinks it served him right. I tried to tell him. Over and over, I did.
Still, I have to say don’t know that I’ve ever been more embarrassed in all my life! Never before or since. And I don’t think Officer Gannon was all that pleased with me, either.
* * *
AFTER THAT night, Anita promised she’d make it up to me. She just apologized over and over. At first, I didn’t want to have anything to do with her. But after a while, I realized she really was sincere.
She did her best to look out for me and helped me learn the ropes. She even helped me find work as an extra. Gave me lots of pointers to help in auditions. Introduced me to all her friends. And then some. Why, she got me my first job! It was just a little part, no lines, and playing a dime-a-dance girl. But it was something. And one that was already hers. She gave it up just for me.
And she helped get my most recent part, too. Playing a temple virgin in Myrna Davis’ new picture. Of course, she liked to tease me endlessly about that one, too. She says that “no one was more perfectly cast.”
Yes, she still has her faults. Probably not the kind of gal I would’ve associated with back home. But I have to say, that Anita turned out to be a good egg after all.
* * *