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. What’s more, he knows who was the last person to see him alive.
But what he doesn’t realize is how hard it will be to prove her innocent. And just how far he’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 I’d sure as hell want to be in on it.
I’d stayed true to my word with my well-dressed friend, Detective Hap Underwood, regarding the whole Irene Faye affair. I’d promised that when something broke on that story, he’d be the first to know. So I didn’t waste any time dialing him up after she’d jumped. Even before I’d called my editor, Hal Jenkins. And now Underwood had just returned the favor.
This one was a sight better than Irene’s mangled corpse. But it was still a hell of a sight indeed. Of course, I’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 we’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. It’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 didn’t have to wait for Underwood to clue me in on the victim’s identity. I knew exactly who the poor sap was.
Met him twice before, in fact. The first time was at W.H. Harper’s party. The last just a week earlier. At the Grove.
Film director William Wade.
The louse hadn’t been seen all weekend and then some. But for a man in his position, that wasn’t unusual. So nobody asked any questions. Even when he didn’t show up for Irene’s funeral.
Especially since he’d had plans to take his yacht to Catalina for a long weekend. Preferably with a certain young actress to keep him company.
That’s why it had been nearly four days before anyone had noticed he was missing. Or that he’d actually been in his office all along.
A housemaid had found the remains first thing Tuesday morning. That’s when she’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), he’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 I’d ever seen.
I would’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 wouldn’t have been surprised if (or for all we knew) Wade had actually been bumped off in Pasadena.
“Say, where’s this cleaning woman now?” I plied. “I’d like to ask her a few questions.”
“We let her go home for the day,” Lennox answered. “As you can imagine, she was pretty distraught.”
Be that as it may, this didn’t strike me as entirely square. We still had a fresh corpse and the only witness was AWOL.
“Okay, how about a name and address then?” I asked. “I’d still like to hit her up.”
“Of course, of course,” Lennox agreed. A little too willingly for my tastes.
“How about Wade’s secretary? She around?” I added. “I’d like to chat her up, too.”
Again, Lennox was only too happy to oblige. Which was exactly why I didn’t entirely believe him.
“Of course. Whatever you need, Mr. Miller.”
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 there’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 Wade’s. As Trudy didn’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.
Wasn’t sure what to expect, but the contents didn’t surprise me. That’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. He’d mentioned her the other night at the Grove, but I hadn’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), they’d been put there to tell a story. Create a false impression. Had to wonder if they’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 wasn’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.
I’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.
She’d eventually fessed up that he’d tried to get handsy. Though she was light on the details. Except that she’d picked up the Oscar and threatened to conk him if he didn’t back off.
Only she didn’t say anything about actually going through with it.
I was dead certain the only thing she’d killed were her career prospects.
I’d seen the torn sleeve from the encounter. But there hadn’t been one drop of blood on her frock.
Same one she’d been wearing when I’d dropped her off at the studio gate. And if she’d been the one to bonk him, there’d have been blood aplenty.
Plus, I knew Trudy didn’t have it in her. Not even by accident.
Still, I also knew who’s prints were probably on that statue. And that thought bothered me most of all.
If I was certain of one thing, it’s that Trudy was innocent as a newborn. Damn if could glim anything in there to prove it, though.
But that wasn’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 might’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 she’d have bolted for the powder room and never come back.
But I gotta hand it to her. She didn’t just talk big. She stomached it just as good as any man I’d ever seen. And some better.
I knew full well that after she’d missed out on the Irene Faye story (even floating the notion that I’d actually given Irene a push), she’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 couldn’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. She’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 morning’s sermon and the fresh air might inspire her to confess. I couldn’t bear to see her so worked up.
“Come on,” I implored, “what’s eating you, Baby? You know you can tell me anything.”
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, she’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 hadn’t said what just yet. But it definitely wasn’t because she’d just killed a man.
Of that much I was sure.
“I’m sorry, Tom,” she finally fessed up. “But I just can’t stop thinking about everything that’s happened. I’ve tried to put on a brave face. I really have. But it all just keeps coming back to haunt me.”
I knew exactly where this was going.
She hadn’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. She’d spill the details only when she was good and ready. If ever.
If he hadn’t have already been croaked, I’d have gone over there and given him a beating myself. I may not have known the particulars, but based on the effect it’d had on Trudy, a beating was certainly well-deserved.
And I’d soon be willing to bet some other joe had gotten the same idea. But used Wade’s Oscar instead of his fists.
“You mean what happened with Wade,?” I queried.
She nodded in affirmation. “That and Irene Faye trying to kill us.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Doll,” I reassured her. “Irene’s gone. And you never have to see Wade again. I’ll even go talk to him if you want.”
Of course, at that point I had no idea he’d already pegged out.
She stopped and took a deep breath. Then buried herself in my arms. “I’m just not used to living like this. I don’t feel safe anymore. It’s just really made me rethink things.”
“Like what?” I had to ask.
“What I want out of life,” she explained. “When 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 I’ve seen, learned what it does to people… well, now I’m not so sure.”
I’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 that’s exactly what she was saying. “I’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.”
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 might’ve been enough if it weren’t for one other thing. One I hadn’t seen coming.
It came in the form of a heaping barrel of guilt. Of the matriarchal variety. “I’m starting to think this just isn’t the place for me. That maybe my mother was right.”
I wouldn’t realize just how deep that barrel was until later. Much later. And I wasn’t about to find out then, either. No matter how much I pried.
“How so, Doll?” I inquired.
Trudy let out an exasperated sigh. “She doesn’t think very much of Hollywood. She warned me that I’d find nothing but trouble if I came here.”
I lifted her dainty chin and stared into those beautiful blue peepers. Did my best to lift her spirits.
“Come on,” I countered. “She’s got to be proud of you. You’re the greatest gal I know.”
Trudy just shrugged. I didn’t know if she was discounting me. Or if I just wasn’t in the know.
I wouldn’t find out for sure until later. And by then it’d be too late to do much good. If any.
“She’s had a really hard time since my father passed away,” she sighed. “We had to sell the farm and move into town. She took up work as a seamstress to raise me and my little sister, Mildred.”
I wasn’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 hadn’t realized it had gotten this bad.
I held her even tighter. And hoped she wouldn’t clam up again.
But if I’d had any idea what was coming, I’d have driven her straight to Union Station.
Put her on the first locomotive home.
And if I’d had more time, I might’ve done so. Except work was pulling me in two different directions.
The first was non-negotiable: Irene’s funeral. I’d thought about taking Trudy along. But only for a second.
After what Irene had done, I wasn’t about to haul Trudy to her interment.
Even more so after this conversation.
I wouldn’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 wasn’t always music and sunshine.
All of which made me worry for Trudy. Not that she’d ever take the coward’s way out. Not a chance. But I just didn’t ever want her to even entertain the idea.
Little did I know, by morning, I’d have another corpse on my radar.
This one closer to home. Much closer.
* * *
THE WEEKEND wasn’t over before I was standing in Forest Lawn. Listening to the local padre wax rhapsodic for Irene’s eulogy.
I was stunned to see an open casket. Especially because I’d seen her on that hillside just the morning before.
It was a sight I won’t soon forget. No matter how much Scotch I applied.
But those morticians must’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 wouldn’t touch her just a few days earlier.
They’d put together the whole affair. All the better to keep control of the narrative. Storytellers to the end.
They didn’t waste any time, either. The burial was scheduled for that Sunday afternoon. Obviously less than the customary three days.
Couldn’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 who’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 yesterday’s news. And for her it happened in an instant.
Naturally, it was a decidedly low-key affair. Not the kind of soirée that attracts the Hollywood crowd. There was more press than mourners. Myself and Flora Mason included.
And one mug I didn’t yet know: Herb Selig. Editor and publisher of Tell-All Magazine.
Not at all like I’d pictured him. He was a round-faced, jovial looking fellow. Bit of an average joe, really.
He’d been making hay off Irene for years. Of course, he’d followed her into the ground. And in that regards, he was no different than the rest of us.
I hadn’t been there two minutes before Flora sauntered over. With half a smile and mischief in her gaze.
“Must be hard for you to watch,” she chided. “Knowing you could’ve saved her. Assuming you tried, of course.”
Charming to the last, this dame.
“Why don’t you show some respect for the dead?” I grumbled. And quickly put some space between us.
From the look on her surprised puss, I might’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 doppelgänger. Minus the Limey accent, of course. Just like I’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 wasn’t exactly fond of the press. I didn’t want to give him another reason.
Hoped I’d get an opportunity on some other occasion. Must’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 didn’t quite add up. Despite his questionable motivation, Wade had been the only one to stick by Irene’s side. Even when all of Derek’s pals had long jumped ship.
Couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’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, “Irene Faye” wasn’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 I’d given it just a moment’s thought, I should have realized maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
“Mrs. Ockleman?” I introduced myself. “Tom Miller. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am for your loss.”
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.
“Thank you so much for your kindness,” she replied. “Did you know my daughter?”
“Only briefly” 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.
“Mother, this is the reporter who wrote that article,” Bappie warned. “The one who was actually there.”
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.
“I’m sorry for what my Connie did to you,” she told me. “I 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.”
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 Wade’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.
I’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 they’d keep her under lock and key. Still, that wasn’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 wasn’t quite so simple. Which was why I liked it even better.
Eleanor. Wade’s middle-aged Gal Friday. Didn’t get the surname at the time because I didn’t know I’d need it. But I’m sure it wasn’t “Roosevelt.”
Trudy had described her as the “mother hen type.” She’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 husband’s wandering proclivities. Eleanor had to make all the arrangements.
And if she had any designs of her own? Well, it doesn’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.
“Say Miller, you got a minute?” she piped.
“It’s your nickel, Sweetheart,” I told her. “Make it quick.”
“Look…” she stumbled. Wasn’t like her to be at a loss for words. “I just want to apologize for what I said at the funeral. That was over the line. And I’m sorry.”
Maybe if that’d been the only time she said it, I might’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.
“What you said? Or where you said it?” I queried.
“Both,” she replied. “I hope perhaps you’ll see it in your heart to forgive me.”
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 didn’t know what to make of it.
Surely, she had an angle. I knew that, if it was me, I’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 didn’t? And wanted to throw me off the scent before we even made it into the trees?
“What do you say we go grab some lunch? Sort of a getting to know you meeting? Start fresh and bury the hatchet?” 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 must’ve been trying to size me up. Get a better handle on the competition.
“Maybe some other time, Doll,” I told her. I wasn’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. Wade’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 I’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.
“Miller, good,” he piped. “You’re still here. Mr. Saltzman would like to see you in his office.”
Well, that was a surprising turn of events. What a difference a headline makes.
As long as I was on the scoreboard, I thought I’d go two-for-two. “Say, how’s about that name and address for the housemaid?”
“We’ll have to check the employee files,” he smiled before trotting off. “I’ll have my girl call you this afternoon. Enjoy your visit with Mr. Saltzman.”
Just the man I wanted to see. And this time, I had an invitation. Practically engraved.
* * *
DEREK SALTZMAN’s office had the same floor plan as Wade’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 he’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.
I’m sure there was a liquor cabinet in there somewhere, too. But I’ll be darned if I could spot it. And this being early still, he wasn’t offering.
Like I said, he was a dead ringer for the imposter Irene had hired. But that’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 didn’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.
“Mr. Miller, such a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” He talked fast, like he was late for a train. Then motioned for me to grab a chair.
“Please, sit down,” 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.
“Thanks, Saltzman,” I replied. “Glad we finally got the chance to meet face-to-face.”
“Yes, well, I wanted to apologize for not speaking to you sooner,” he countered, “especially at the funeral.”
“Well you had more important things on your mind,” I concurred.
“Quite so,” he agreed. “As it were, you may have heard that my past dealings with the press have not exactly been cordial.”
That was the first thing Trudy had told me about him. It was nice to see he didn’t have a problem owning up to it.
“Be that as it may,” he continued, “I owe you a great debt of gratitude for clearing my name. I can’t imagine the consequences had you not interfered.”
I didn’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 he’d married. And just being around him made her feel smarter. Until she found out about his other study partners, of course.
And maybe he’d helped create the monster she became. Helped in a big way. But the punishment she’d planned had far outweighed the crime.
He concluded: “I’d probably be sitting in a jail cell this very minute. Loudly proclaiming my innocence. All on deaf ears, of course.”
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.
“If there’s ever anything I can do for you,” he offered, “just let me know. I assure you, I will be more than happy to oblige.”
I was just about to mention Trudy’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 I’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.
“Much appreciated, Saltzman,” I replied. “I just may take you up on that.”
Still, I couldn’t leave without putting on my reporter’s hat. Exercise my First Amendment rights. What can I say? It’s in my blood.
“Tell me one thing, though,” I asked him. “You have any idea who’d want to bump off Wade?”
Saltzman just shrugged. “Jealous husband? Jealous wife? I’ll admit I’m no saint, but a man like Wade… well, I can’t say I’m surprised.”
That was rich coming from him. Especially since his own jealous wife had just tried to frame him for arson and murder.
But he’d hit the nail on the head. Which was exactly why the jealous wife was next on my list.
* * *