Jim ParsonsMystery and Suspense Author
EDGE OF FRAME
Most people prefer death on celluloid over the real-life kind.
I imagine Darcy Diamond shared that feeling. I might have asked her, except she wasn’t talking today, or any day. Not with a section of heavy, gray metal rigging draping her body like a crumpled overcoat.
By the looks of things, the actress had been dead a while. Her eyes were closed, her face grayer than the rigging. A splash of blood coloring her lips provided the only break in the monochrome scene.
We were on Soundstage 3 at the Fox studio on Western Avenue. The stage was dressed to resemble a Prohibition speakeasy. A bank of arc lights illuminated the scene and just off set two Bell and Howell cameras loomed, gleaming blackly under the lights, dead silent and unmoving, just like Darcy Diamond. No air circulated in the high-domed building.
I spotted a thick-legged LAPD sergeant stationed near the body. He was questioning a key grip named Cranks.
I approached and tapped the blue uniformed shoulder. The cop pivoted and shot me a hard look. Not liking what he saw, he squared his body, boxing me out. “No press. Scram.”
I ignored him, along with the slur to my character and forty-dollar suit, and told the key grip that Loudon had called.
“He on set?” I asked.
Cranks and I first met a few years back when I took a job as a riding extra in Hollywood. It was 1933 and he was a union shop steward then. We hadn’t spoken in years, but I could tell he remembered me. Still, he considered my question for a good long time, his handlebar mustache twitching.
I thought I understood the key grip’s 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 approval might ignite Loudon, and 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 just ducked out,” he said. “Probably catch him at the bungalow on the phone to legal.”
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.
Chandler had tracked me down by phone at the Sunrise Restaurant in Little Tokyo. Her instructions: head directly 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. The same black-and-white was parked outside the stage 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.
“Damnit, 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.”
“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.”
© 2017 Parsons & Roth