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Jim Parsons

Mystery and Suspense Author

EDGE OF FRAME

 

Chapter One

 

Nobody comes to Hollywood to die. Unless it’s on film.

I once read that Hollywood produces more deaths in a week than New York, Philly and Chicago do in a month. Actors in Hollywood die every day. Some more than once. But they rarely stay dead.

Not like Darcy Diamond.

From where I stood, just inside the doorway of the Twentieth Century-Fox Films soundstage, I had a clear view of the body. She was sprawled on the floor, eyes closed, skin gray, wearing a heavy overcoat of crumpled metal rigging. Death was faked so often in Hollywood that most times it looked more real than reality. For a moment I almost expected a director to shout “Cut! Print it!”

But that wasn’t going to happen. Not today.

The set was dressed to resemble an uptown nightclub, illuminated by a bank of arc lights. Two Bell and Howell cameras gleamed blackly under the glare, silent and unmoving–just like Darcy Diamond. No air circulated in the high-domed building.

Stationed near the body was a thick-legged LAPD sergeant. He was questioning a key grip named Cranks. I made my way over and tapped the blue uniformed shoulder.

The cop pivoted. Not liking what he saw, he squared his body, boxing me out. “No press. Scram.”

Ignoring him, along with the slur to my character and thirty-dollar suit, I told the key grip that Loudon had called, and asked if the producer was on set.

Cranks and I first met when I took a job as a riding extra in Hollywood. It was 1933 and he was a union shop steward then. We weren’t friends and hadn’t spoken in years.

The key grip’s eyes widened with recognition. His handlebar mustache twitched and a heavy sigh stirred the thick bush, but he didn’t speak.

I thought I understood his reluctance. Randall Loudon rode film crews hard. He had a temper that could melt glass and he didn’t much care who got scorched. Steering someone to the producer without an okay from the man himself was dangerous. Cranks was calculating the chances of blowback.

While he worked the problem, I listened to fragments of conversation drifting across the set from crew members standing beyond the hot glare of the stage lights…Damn-it, Bobby, that rigging checked out. It was solid…I dunno, cable don’t look right, it don’t look—Shut up, you dummy, I strung it myself….

Cranks reached a decision. “Marty ducked out,” he said. “Probably catch him at the bungalow on the phone.”

I nodded my thanks and looked once more at the dead actress. Finding Darcy here–dead or otherwise–surprised me. She was strictly Poverty Row studios, a B-movie actress who resembled Claudette Colbert, but was cursed by a dog whistle voice and limited talent that kept her on the wrong side of major studio doors. I suspected that when Loudon called Thornton Confidential earlier, he’d left out the bit about a corpse. My boss, Chandler Thornton, a former assistant district attorney, was not a fan of dead bodies.

She had tracked me down by phone at the Sunrise Restaurant in Little Tokyo. Her instructions: head over to the Fox Films lot and talk only to London.

I caught a cab at the corner of First and San Pedro and arrived at the studio just behind a police cruiser. After checking in with the gate guard, I headed to Soundstage 3 only to find the same black-and-white parked outside the soundstage door.

Now, leaving the building, I scanned the lot for gold shields. Most of the Hollywood detective squad liked me, but the last thing I wanted was to field questions about why I was stomping on the LA cops’ patch. Especially when I was clueless myself.

I found Loudon in one of the tiny stucco bungalows that served as a makeshift office and hidey-hole for assorted people and props. He was leaning against a slapdash wood desk, shouting into a candlestick phone: “Where the hell is this hotsho….” Deep-set brown eyes raked me. “Wait, what’s he look like? A grown up Dickey Jones? Huh, if you say so. Anyway, he showed.”

He dropped the handset onto its cradle. “What the hell took you?”

“Who was on the line?” I knew it was one of the dolls, but I didn’t appreciate the attitude.

“Damn it, how the hell do I know?”

“Language, Marty, language. Don’t want to spoil your Hays rating.”

Loudon’s upper lip thinned out. His last movie had fired up the censors, resulting in a significant fine and ticking off the Fox Films studio bosses.

“Didn’t know Thornton hired jokers,” he said.

“Only ones playing with a full deck.” I kept my tone easy.

Loudon frowned. “Finn, right? Some kinda Olympic whatever before you hired on as a stunt guy.” His eyes challenged me. “Fell off a horse during shooting on _Rio Seco_ , right? Busted the camera rig. Cost Grassman a day’s production.”

“Half a day.”

“Fired, right?”

“Retired.”

“Not how Grassman tells it.”

My shrug barely registered. “Man always did like rewrites.”

Loudon’s mouth threatened to work itself into a smile. He nodded once, more to himself than me, then stepped neatly across the cluttered floor and out the door.

“Keep up,” he said over his shoulder. “I’ll give you the scoop about why I called Thornton. It’s bad business, Finn, bad all ways round.”

 

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