We’re less than two months from the release of One Angel Less (Hollywood Newshawk Book 2)! We’re excited to offer you this brief preview of the first three chapters. The events take place right on the heels of Book 1, The City Burns at Night. This title is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Coming March 30, 2021!
These books are currently exclusive with Amazon. Covert League members can read an Advanced Copy of One Angel Less, prior to publication.
ONE ANGEL LESS
Everyone in Hollywood lives for a gold statuette. He was the first to die by one!
Right on the heels of the Irene Faye story, hotshot Los Angeles Chronicle reporter Tom Miller gets called to the Metropolitan Pictures lot where a studio exec has been found dead in his office.
As soon as Miller catches a glimpse of the corpse, he recognizes the victim immediately: Bigwig director William Wade. Whatâ€™s more, he knows who was the last person to see him alive.
But what he doesnâ€™t realize is how hard it will be to prove her innocent. And just how far heâ€™ll have to go to save her from the gallows!
IT WAS MURDER! Hot-tempered and cold-blooded! On that much there was no doubt.
The corpse was stretched flat out across the floor of his studio office. His smashed-in cranium buried face-first in the lush carpet. He was deader than freedom in Germany.
Someone had used his noggin for an anvil. His wavy grey hair caked in dried blood. The nearby desk and his three-piece suit all stained with splashes of dark crimson.
I covered my breather with a kerchief and went in for a gander. The whole room had the pungent aroma of days-old death.
It was early Tuesday morning when I got the call. Told me to hightail my keister down to Metropolitan Pictures. There was a big story about to break. And Iâ€™d sure as hell want to be in on it.
Iâ€™d stayed true to my word with my well-dressed friend, Detective Hap Underwood, regarding the whole Irene Faye affair. Iâ€™d promised that when something broke on that story, heâ€™d be the first to know. So I didnâ€™t waste any time dialing him up after sheâ€™d jumped. Even before Iâ€™d called my editor, Hal Jenkins. And now Underwood had just returned the favor.
This one was a sight better than Ireneâ€™s mangled corpse. But it was still a hell of a sight indeed. Of course, Iâ€™d seen a lot worse on the battlefield. But never in such posh surroundings.
We were standing in one of the executive suites on the Metropolitan lot. It was easily twice the size of my apartment stash. And then some.
Pretty swanky digs from where I was standing. To one side was a couch and a low cabinet. To the other side, where weâ€™d come in, a tall cupboard with two mirrored doors and a bookshelf in between.
In the center was a big mahogany desk with a high-backed chair. All perched in front of a big picture window on the ground level.
The murder weapon was right there on the floor, next to the body. An Oscar statuette. Itâ€™s shiny surface dulled from the crusted residue.
Everyone in Hollywood lives for one of those little gold trophies. He was the first to die by one!
I didnâ€™t have to wait for Underwood to clue me in on the victimâ€™s identity. I knew exactly who the poor sap was.
Met him twice before, in fact. The first time was at W.H. Harperâ€™s party. The last just a week earlier. At the Grove.
Film director William Wade.
The louse hadnâ€™t been seen all weekend and then some. But for a man in his position, that wasnâ€™t unusual. So nobody asked any questions. Even when he didnâ€™t show up for Ireneâ€™s funeral.
Especially since heâ€™d had plans to take his yacht to Catalina for a long weekend. Preferably with a certain young actress to keep him company.
Thatâ€™s why it had been nearly four days before anyone had noticed he was missing. Or that heâ€™d actually been in his office all along.
A housemaid had found the remains first thing Tuesday morning. Thatâ€™s when sheâ€™d noticed the offending aroma.
Naturally, she called the head of the PR Department, that bulldog Eddie Lennox. And two hours later (by my estimate), heâ€™d called the boys in blue.
I watched as Underwood checked the crime scene over. My first time to see the man at work. His personal style may have been relaxed, but I had to hand it to him. He was all business. As thorough as any tin shamus Iâ€™d ever seen.
I wouldâ€™ve laid even money that Lennox and his boys had already been over every detail. Arranged everything to tell exactly the story they wanted. I wouldnâ€™t have been surprised if (or for all we knew) Wade had actually been bumped off in Pasadena.
â€œSay, whereâ€™s this cleaning woman now?â€ I plied. â€œIâ€™d like to ask her a few questions.â€
â€œWe let her go home for the day,â€ Lennox answered. â€œAs you can imagine, she was pretty distraught.â€
Be that as it may, this didnâ€™t strike me as entirely square. We still had a fresh corpse and the only witness was AWOL.
â€œOkay, how about a name and address then?â€ I asked. â€œIâ€™d still like to hit her up.â€
â€œOf course, of course,â€ Lennox agreed. A little too willingly for my tastes.
â€œHow about Wadeâ€™s secretary? She around?â€ I added. â€œIâ€™d like to chat her up, too.â€
Again, Lennox was only too happy to oblige. Which was exactly why I didnâ€™t entirely believe him.
â€œOf course. Whatever you need, Mr. Miller.â€
While Underwood and the Coroner examined the stiff, I took the opportunity to study the rest of the surroundings.
You know what they say: the devil is in the details. And I was hoping this particular devil had gotten sloppy and missed a few.
There was a glass of hooch on the desk just above the body. But the faint water rings in the wood told me thereâ€™d once been two.
That squared better with what little Trudy had told me. Wade had wanted to ply her with a good swig or two before getting friendly. Too friendly.
But he was barking up the wrong tree on that one. She was more pious than an old spinster in Bible School.
There were a couple of gaspers in the ashtray. Both identical. Also had to be Wadeâ€™s. As Trudy didnâ€™t smoke, either.
Next I perused the mirrored cabinet by the office portal. It was slightly ajar. So I lifted a pencil out of my coat pocket and pried it open.
Wasnâ€™t sure what to expect, but the contents didnâ€™t surprise me. Thatâ€™s where Wade kept his liquor stash.
On the shelves was a small gallery of framed portraits. All of Wade and the Mrs. Dark-haired Spanish gal, and still quite the dish, too. Heâ€™d mentioned her the other night at the Grove, but I hadnâ€™t yet had the pleasure.
They looked happy together. Still deeply in love after what had to be a dozen-or-more years.
But it was clear (to me, anyways), theyâ€™d been put there to tell a story. Create a false impression. Had to wonder if theyâ€™d all been taken by the Studio photographer. Probably so.
Nothing else out of place. Except the Oscar. And the stone-cold cadaver sprawled out on the carpet.
But it wasnâ€™t just the ripening corpse that bothered me. No, it was something a lot worse. And for good reason.
You see, I knew chances were good that Trudy was the last person to see him still breathing. A little too good for my liking.
Iâ€™d driven her to the Studio that Friday night. For a screen test with said victim sprawled out before me. And a meeting afterwards.
In that very same office.
Coincidence? I could only hope so.
Sheâ€™d eventually fessed up that heâ€™d tried to get handsy. Though she was light on the details. Except that sheâ€™d picked up the Oscar and threatened to conk him if he didnâ€™t back off.
Only she didnâ€™t say anything about actually going through with it.
I was dead certain the only thing sheâ€™d killed were her career prospects.
Iâ€™d seen the torn sleeve from the encounter. But there hadnâ€™t been one drop of blood on her frock.
Same one sheâ€™d been wearing when Iâ€™d dropped her off at the studio gate. And if sheâ€™d been the one to bonk him, thereâ€™d have been blood aplenty.
Plus, I knew Trudy didnâ€™t have it in her. Not even by accident.
Still, I also knew whoâ€™s prints were probably on that statue. And that thought bothered me most of all.
If I was certain of one thing, itâ€™s that Trudy was innocent as a newborn. Damn if could glim anything in there to prove it, though.
But that wasnâ€™t about to stop me from trying.
Oh, and there was one other big problem, too. Flora Mason was there.
Yeah, that raven-haired minx from the Tribune. She mightâ€™ve been a real looker, but Irene had already proven that true ugliness can come in a beautiful package.
I thought for sure after getting one whiff sheâ€™d have bolted for the powder room and never come back.
But I gotta hand it to her. She didnâ€™t just talk big. She stomached it just as good as any man Iâ€™d ever seen. And some better.
I knew full well that after sheâ€™d missed out on the Irene Faye story (even floating the notion that Iâ€™d actually given Irene a push), sheâ€™d be like a dog on a mailman with this one.
And I was right.
IT WAS only two days earlier I was still basking in the glow of my banner headline. A glow that had lasted most of the weekend.
MOVIE STAR JUMPS TO DEATH FROM HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN
But like any blaze, it couldnâ€™t burn long. And as Sunday drew to a close, it was down to only a few embers.
By late afternoon, I was on my own with one more story to write. The final chapter, if you will, of the story that was Irene Faye.
Trudy and I had spent the morning at church. Then after high tea we took in a stroll at Griffith Park.
I could tell something had been gnawing at her. Sheâ€™d tortured the napkins at both lunch that day and dinner the night before.
Only this time when I asked, she just clammed up.
Thought maybe the morningâ€™s sermon and the fresh air might inspire her to confess. I couldnâ€™t bear to see her so worked up.
â€œCome on,â€ I implored, â€œwhatâ€™s eating you, Baby? You know you can tell me anything.â€
By this time, she was wrenching the strap on her purse. Kept wrapping it around her paw and cutting the circulation. After it turned blue, sheâ€™d let it go. Only to do the same a few minutes later.
She was a bundle of anxiety. And it was tearing her up inside.
She finally let the strap go for good. Then crossed her wings tight and did a stare-down with the grass.
Something was really bugging her. Only she hadnâ€™t said what just yet. But it definitely wasnâ€™t because sheâ€™d just killed a man.
Of that much I was sure.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Tom,â€ she finally fessed up. â€œBut I just canâ€™t stop thinking about everything thatâ€™s happened. Iâ€™ve tried to put on a brave face. I really have. But it all just keeps coming back to haunt me.â€
I knew exactly where this was going.
She hadnâ€™t said much about her meeting with Wade. But the torn blouse and mascara stains had said plenty all on their own.
And if I was sure of anything, it was this. Sheâ€™d spill the details only when she was good and ready. If ever.
If he hadnâ€™t have already been croaked, Iâ€™d have gone over there and given him a beating myself. I may not have known the particulars, but based on the effect itâ€™d had on Trudy, a beating was certainly well-deserved.
And Iâ€™d soon be willing to bet some other joe had gotten the same idea. But used Wadeâ€™s Oscar instead of his fists.
â€œYou mean what happened with Wade,?â€ I queried.
She nodded in affirmation. â€œThat and Irene Faye trying to kill us.â€
â€œThereâ€™s nothing to be afraid of, Doll,â€ I reassured her. â€œIreneâ€™s gone. And you never have to see Wade again. Iâ€™ll even go talk to him if you want.â€
Of course, at that point I had no idea heâ€™d already pegged out.
She stopped and took a deep breath. Then buried herself in my arms. â€œIâ€™m just not used to living like this. I donâ€™t feel safe anymore. Itâ€™s just really made me rethink things.â€
â€œLike what?â€ I had to ask.
â€œWhat I want out of life,â€ she explained. â€œWhen I moved out here last year, all I ever wanted was to be was an actress. It was all I ever dreamed about. But after what Iâ€™ve seen, learned what it does to peopleâ€¦ well, now Iâ€™m not so sure.â€
Iâ€™ll admit, that final bit took me by surprise. I knew the last couple of days had done a number on her.
But I never thought she was ready to pack it all up. Give up on her dream.
But thatâ€™s exactly what she was saying. â€œIâ€™m starting to think that maybe I should move back home. Settle down. Raise a family. All the things I never wanted to do before.â€
She faced away and stared up at the sky. I took her in my arms and held her tight. Whatever I could to make her feel safe.
And that mightâ€™ve been enough if it werenâ€™t for one other thing. One I hadnâ€™t seen coming.
It came in the form of a heaping barrel of guilt. Of the matriarchal variety. â€œIâ€™m starting to think this just isnâ€™t the place for me. That maybe my mother was right.â€
I wouldnâ€™t realize just how deep that barrel was until later. Much later. And I wasnâ€™t about to find out then, either. No matter how much I pried.
â€œHow so, Doll?â€ I inquired.
Trudy let out an exasperated sigh. â€œShe doesnâ€™t think very much of Hollywood. She warned me that Iâ€™d find nothing but trouble if I came here.â€
I lifted her dainty chin and stared into those beautiful blue peepers. Did my best to lift her spirits.
â€œCome on,â€ I countered. â€œSheâ€™s got to be proud of you. Youâ€™re the greatest gal I know.â€
Trudy just shrugged. I didnâ€™t know if she was discounting me. Or if I just wasnâ€™t in the know.
I wouldnâ€™t find out for sure until later. And by then itâ€™d be too late to do much good. If any.
â€œSheâ€™s had a really hard time since my father passed away,â€ she sighed. â€œWe had to sell the farm and move into town. She took up work as a seamstress to raise me and my little sister, Mildred.â€
I wasnâ€™t sure if she was sympathizing or making excuses. Maybe a little of both.
Like I said, I knew something was eating at her. I just hadnâ€™t realized it had gotten this bad.
I held her even tighter. And hoped she wouldnâ€™t clam up again.
But if Iâ€™d had any idea what was coming, Iâ€™d have driven her straight to Union Station.
Put her on the first locomotive home.
And if Iâ€™d had more time, I mightâ€™ve done so. Except work was pulling me in two different directions.
The first was non-negotiable: Ireneâ€™s funeral. Iâ€™d thought about taking Trudy along. But only for a second.
After what Irene had done, I wasnâ€™t about to haul Trudy to her interment.
Even more so after this conversation.
I wouldnâ€™t have gone myself, except Jenkins wanted it on the front page of the evening edition. And thankfully, Trudy understood.
The second was easier to skip. I got word of a floater down in Laguna.
Jane Doe. Underwood said she probably got toasted and took a spill. Either that or just got fed up and decided to end it all.
There was a bit of that going around. The end of the war had been a godsend. But the euphoria only lasted so long. Because after that, life was still waiting. And it wasnâ€™t always music and sunshine.
All of which made me worry for Trudy. Not that sheâ€™d ever take the cowardâ€™s way out. Not a chance. But I just didnâ€™t ever want her to even entertain the idea.
Little did I know, by morning, Iâ€™d have another corpse on my radar.
This one closer to home. Much closer.
* * *
THE WEEKEND wasnâ€™t over before I was standing in Forest Lawn. Listening to the local padre wax rhapsodic for Ireneâ€™s eulogy.
I was stunned to see an open casket. Especially because Iâ€™d seen her on that hillside just the morning before.
It was a sight I wonâ€™t soon forget. No matter how much Scotch I applied.
But those morticians mustâ€™ve been working overtime. Because she was every bit as beautiful as her 8x10s. Just the way the Studio wanted her remembered. Same one that wouldnâ€™t touch her just a few days earlier.
Theyâ€™d put together the whole affair. All the better to keep control of the narrative. Storytellers to the end.
They didnâ€™t waste any time, either. The burial was scheduled for that Sunday afternoon. Obviously less than the customary three days.
Couldnâ€™t get her in the ground fast enough. Too anxious to get this whole nasty business swept under the rug. Preferably over the weekend.
Because everyone had to get back to work first thing Monday morning. To pretend like nothing had happened.
Back to the business of making artificial dreams.
The few friends whoâ€™d stuck with Irene through the lean years were nowhere to be found. Too busy making headlines somewhere else.
Poor Irene. Last thing she wanted was to be yesterdayâ€™s news. And for her it happened in an instant.
Naturally, it was a decidedly low-key affair. Not the kind of soirÃ©e that attracts the Hollywood crowd. There was more press than mourners. Myself and Flora Mason included.
And one mug I didnâ€™t yet know: Herb Selig. Editor and publisher of Tell-All Magazine.
Not at all like Iâ€™d pictured him. He was a round-faced, jovial looking fellow. Bit of an average joe, really.
Heâ€™d been making hay off Irene for years. Of course, heâ€™d followed her into the ground. And in that regards, he was no different than the rest of us.
I hadnâ€™t been there two minutes before Flora sauntered over. With half a smile and mischief in her gaze.
â€œMust be hard for you to watch,â€ she chided. â€œKnowing you couldâ€™ve saved her. Assuming you tried, of course.â€
Charming to the last, this dame.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you show some respect for the dead?â€ I grumbled. And quickly put some space between us.
From the look on her surprised puss, I mightâ€™ve struck a nerve of my own.
Playing the part of the grieving husband was Derek Saltzman. This time the real McCoy.
She sure had an eye for casting.
He looked a hell of a lot like his doppelgÃ¤nger. Minus the Limey accent, of course. Just like Iâ€™d suspected. Though I have to admit, I had to look twice to make sure he was the real deal.
The ringer Irene hired was a dead one at that. The real Derek was definitely polished, but still bore the markings of someone from back East.
Saltzman might not have been an actor, but he sure put on a convincing performance. Too distraught to say a word. He just sat there in tearful silence during the whole shebang.
With Studio fixer Eddie Lennox right there by his side.
Pretty emotional for a guy who was nearly framed for arson and murder. But forgiveness always plays better with the audience.
As much as I wanted to chat him up, I let him have his peace. It was still well-known he wasnâ€™t exactly fond of the press. I didnâ€™t want to give him another reason.
Hoped Iâ€™d get an opportunity on some other occasion. Mustâ€™ve rubbed a lamp somewhere, because that was one wish that would come true. And sooner rather than later.
Heard more than one person question the whereabouts of Wade. Everyone figured he was out on his yacht, as usual. Which didnâ€™t quite add up. Despite his questionable motivation, Wade had been the only one to stick by Ireneâ€™s side. Even when all of Derekâ€™s pals had long jumped ship.
Couldnâ€™t help but wonder why he didnâ€™t show. Or even send his gal Friday, Eleanor, in his stead.
Of course, we all got our answer soon enough.
The only other family present was her little grey-haired mother, Charlotte. And an older half-sister, Bappie, who had Irene by a good fifteen years.
Thankfully, Trudy had supplied me with the whole family tree.
Irene hailed from New Jersey. And like most folks in Hollywood, â€œIrene Fayeâ€ wasnâ€™t the moniker listed on her birth certificate. Her real name was Constance Ockleman.
Pretty little Connie made some influential friends in New York. Very influential. So when she found a gentleman suitor who would send her out West, Mother sent Bappie as a chaperone.
Like closing the barn door after the horse has left the county.
Bappie still lived in the City of Angels, having never gone back to Jersey. Or her husband. Quite the family resemblance.
Following the tragic news Friday night, the Studio had put mother Charlotte on a plane. Flew her out lickety-split. And from the looks of her, I think the old gal was still pretty shaken by the experience.
I made sure to offer my condolences after the service. But waited until Saltzman had already done the same.
Though, if Iâ€™d given it just a momentâ€™s thought, I should have realized maybe that wasnâ€™t the best idea.
â€œMrs. Ockleman?â€ I introduced myself. â€œTom Miller. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am for your loss.â€
The old woman turned around. Looked at me with eyes that revealed more than a broken heart. Irene may have been a cold-blooded killer, but her passing would still leave a deep and lasting scar.
â€œThank you so much for your kindness,â€ she replied. â€œDid you know my daughter?â€
â€œOnly brieflyâ€ was all I managed to get out. That was before Bappie pushed herself in between us. All an attempt to shield her mother. Not that I blamed her.
I could see the pain in her eyes, too. Pain of a different kind.
â€œMother, this is the reporter who wrote that article,â€ Bappie warned. â€œThe one who was actually there.â€
I thought the old lady would cower away in fear. But in fact, she did just the opposite.
She walked around her steadfast daughter and took me by the hand. Tears still filled her aging optics.
â€œIâ€™m sorry for what my Connie did to you,â€ she told me. â€œI do hope that you and your young lady friend are quite all right. She was such a sweet girl growing up. Please accept my apology.â€
Turns out the apple can fall far from the tree. Clear to another orchard. And then some.
All I could do was just stand there with my big yap wide open, gasping for what to say.
And came up empty-handed.
SOON AS I left the crime scene in Wadeâ€™s office, I found my way back outside. Under the bright sun and palm trees. My cranium already spinning.
I had a story to chase. And I was ready to kick it into high gear.
There was a gaggle of coppers hanging out near the door. One in particular stood out. And not just because he was in plain clothes around a bunch of harness bulls. Or built like a steamroller.
The name was Detective Hank McDonagh. He was a big Irishman with a bad crew cut and a sour disposition.
Iâ€™d seen him around. Especially at the bottom of Mount Lee the morning after Irene made her last headline.
Hap Underwood was the laid back type. But whenever he needed to make a point, McDonagh was the muscle.
That told me Underwood was dead serious about this one.
I stepped off to the side and set fire to a gasper.
Yeah, the details at hand were limited. I really wanted to talk to that maid. I was sure that Hap would soon be knocking on her doorstep.
She was the only one who saw the crime scene before the Studio set decorators did their handiwork.
Was certain theyâ€™d keep her under lock and key. Still, that wasnâ€™t about to stop me from trying. Or bump her off my list of suspects.
Sure the crime scene had been staged, but one item was certain. Wade had been bashed in the back of the head. With his own Oscar.
The whole thing smelled of revenge.
My gut was telling me there was a dame involved. Possibly more than one. And it just so happened I already had another pair of possible fraus on my radar.
The first was Mrs. William Wade. Always the likely suspect in these situations, just by virtue of her relation to the victim. Based on what Trudy had clued me, I already knew Wade liked to make friendly with the help.
Add one jealous wife and stir. Simple recipe for murder.
The other wasnâ€™t quite so simple. Which was why I liked it even better.
Eleanor. Wadeâ€™s middle-aged Gal Friday. Didnâ€™t get the surname at the time because I didnâ€™t know Iâ€™d need it. But Iâ€™m sure it wasnâ€™t â€œRoosevelt.â€
Trudy had described her as the â€œmother hen type.â€ Sheâ€™d taken the call, scheduled the screen test. Even told Trudy to wait for Wade in his office.
Mrs. Wade just had to put up with her husbandâ€™s wandering proclivities. Eleanor had to make all the arrangements.
And if she had any designs of her own? Well, it doesnâ€™t take a genius to make five out of that little equation.
Luckily, I still had the card Wade had given me. Hopefully, Eleanor would answer again. Unless, of course, she suddenly got called out of the country.
I was just about to bolt for my heap when Flora Mason darkened my path. Heart on her sleeve, looking to make nice for a change.
Maybe our little chat at the requiem had put her wise.
â€œSay Miller, you got a minute?â€ she piped.
â€œItâ€™s your nickel, Sweetheart,â€ I told her. â€œMake it quick.â€
â€œLook…â€ she stumbled. Wasnâ€™t like her to be at a loss for words. â€œI just want to apologize for what I said at the funeral. That was over the line. And Iâ€™m sorry.â€
Maybe if thatâ€™d been the only time she said it, I mightâ€™ve been more inclined to believe her. As it stood so far, I was still battling a healthy dose of skepticism. One thick as Castor Oil.
â€œWhat you said? Or where you said it?â€ I queried.
â€œBoth,â€ she replied. â€œI hope perhaps youâ€™ll see it in your heart to forgive me.â€
And that was that. No fluttering of the eyes. No fingering the top button of her silky blouse. No come-hither smile.
She sounded sincere as a Rabbi on the witness stand. Which is exactly why I didnâ€™t know what to make of it.
Surely, she had an angle. I knew that, if it was me, Iâ€™d have an angle. And she was too much like me not to have an angle. And enough curves to make it happen.
Trying to throw me off balance? Send me back to the starting gate?
We were both on equal footing with this one.
Or maybe she already knew something I didnâ€™t? And wanted to throw me off the scent before we even made it into the trees?
â€œWhat do you say we go grab some lunch? Sort of a getting to know you meeting? Start fresh and bury the hatchet?â€ she suggested.
And shiv me with a smile doing it? Not a chance.
But then again, maybe this broad really was on the up-and-up. And maybe flying monkeys soar over Hollywood Boulevard.
I figured she mustâ€™ve been trying to size me up. Get a better handle on the competition.
â€œMaybe some other time, Doll,â€ I told her. I wasnâ€™t looking to get burned again anytime soon.
* * *
NO SOONER had we parted ways, when the Studio bulldog blocked my path. I was ready to make tracks to Mrs. Wadeâ€™s residence. Where every other scribe in town was certainly headed. Flora included.
But Lennox looked like he had other ideas. Which came as no surprise.
Our last meeting, when Iâ€™d dropped in unannounced looking for Saltzman, had been less than cordial. And from the sour look on his mug, this one was about to go the same.
Lennox reminded me a lot of some of the mob boys back East. A lot of polish and just as many rough edges. Expensive suits hiding a pair of brass knuckles.
â€œMiller, good,â€ he piped. â€œYouâ€™re still here. Mr. Saltzman would like to see you in his office.â€
Well, that was a surprising turn of events. What a difference a headline makes.
As long as I was on the scoreboard, I thought Iâ€™d go two-for-two. â€œSay, howâ€™s about that name and address for the housemaid?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll have to check the employee files,â€ he smiled before trotting off. â€œIâ€™ll have my girl call you this afternoon. Enjoy your visit with Mr. Saltzman.â€
Just the man I wanted to see. And this time, I had an invitation. Practically engraved.
* * *
DEREK SALTZMANâ€™s office had the same floor plan as Wadeâ€™s. Just a few floors higher and one with a lot more shelves. But not a single photograph of the Missus. That much was understandable.
Instead the hovel was chock full of books. The cupboards so full he had them stacked two deep and sideways.
And it looked like heâ€™d actually read most of them, too. There were plenty of dog-eared pages and scraps of torn paper used as bookmarks.
Decoration-wise, it looked more like a living room. Save for the large wooden desk. Plus a smaller one off to the side.
Seating was ample. In front of the escritoire were two regular chairs with leather cushions. Then a pair of wingbacks in a floral pattern. And further still was a couch.
And a lot of lamps. I think I lost count.
Iâ€™m sure there was a liquor cabinet in there somewhere, too. But Iâ€™ll be darned if I could spot it. And this being early still, he wasnâ€™t offering.
Like I said, he was a dead ringer for the imposter Irene had hired. But thatâ€™s where the resemblance ended. The real Derek was polished, yeah, but he was energetic and straight to the point.
And I got the distinct impression he knew he was at least a few IQ points higher than everyone around him. Me especially.
He didnâ€™t waste any time on introductions. But for someone who was notoriously at-odds with the press, he was much friendlier than I expected. By a long shot.
He immediately grabbed me by the paw and shook hands. Got right up in my map, practically beak to beak. Looked me dead in the optics.
â€œMr. Miller, such a pleasure to finally meet you in person.â€ He talked fast, like he was late for a train. Then motioned for me to grab a chair.
â€œPlease, sit down,â€ he offered. He took one wingback and I took the other. It was comfortable enough for a king. The kind you could easily fall asleep in.
â€œThanks, Saltzman,â€ I replied. â€œGlad we finally got the chance to meet face-to-face.â€
â€œYes, well, I wanted to apologize for not speaking to you sooner,â€ he countered, â€œespecially at the funeral.â€
â€œWell you had more important things on your mind,â€ I concurred.
â€œQuite so,â€ he agreed. â€œAs it were, you may have heard that my past dealings with the press have not exactly been cordial.â€
That was the first thing Trudy had told me about him. It was nice to see he didnâ€™t have a problem owning up to it.
â€œBe that as it may,â€ he continued, â€œI owe you a great debt of gratitude for clearing my name. I canâ€™t imagine the consequences had you not interfered.â€
I didnâ€™t have to ask what kind of a man could fall for a woman like Irene. Get completely taken in by her spell. All I had to do was look in a mirror.
But Saltzman had known her when she was young and innocent. Uncorrupted by the Hollywood dream. That was the gal heâ€™d married. And just being around him made her feel smarter. Until she found out about his other study partners, of course.
And maybe heâ€™d helped create the monster she became. Helped in a big way. But the punishment sheâ€™d planned had far outweighed the crime.
He concluded: â€œIâ€™d probably be sitting in a jail cell this very minute. Loudly proclaiming my innocence. All on deaf ears, of course.â€
Just the words I wanted to hear. Glad to know we were on the same page. And I knew someone else who would be even happier.
â€œIf thereâ€™s ever anything I can do for you,â€ he offered, â€œjust let me know. I assure you, I will be more than happy to oblige.â€
I was just about to mention Trudyâ€™s screen test when I remembered something else. Something that gave me pause. And with good reason.
The guy who shot that screen test was presently lying face down in his office. Deader than Vaudeville. And headed to the county morgue.
And I remembered the conversation Iâ€™d just had with Flora Mason. About showing some respect for the dead. Better to wait a few days on that one. Save it for later.
â€œMuch appreciated, Saltzman,â€ I replied. â€œI just may take you up on that.â€
Still, I couldnâ€™t leave without putting on my reporterâ€™s hat. Exercise my First Amendment rights. What can I say? Itâ€™s in my blood.
â€œTell me one thing, though,â€ I asked him. â€œYou have any idea whoâ€™d want to bump off Wade?â€
Saltzman just shrugged. â€œJealous husband? Jealous wife? Iâ€™ll admit Iâ€™m no saint, but a man like Wadeâ€¦ well, I canâ€™t say Iâ€™m surprised.â€
That was rich coming from him. Especially since his own jealous wife had just tried to frame him for arson and murder.
But heâ€™d hit the nail on the head. Which was exactly why the jealous wife was next on my list.
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