MURDER UNSCRIPTED (Coming October 1, 2017)

** Click the cover image to pre-order online **

I spotted a payphone right outside the main gate, fished around for two quarters, and sacrificed them to Ma Bell. I punched in my office number and Mavis picked up on the second ring.

“Collins Investigations.”

“It’s your boss, kiddo. What’s up?”

“You got a call from a guy by the name of Chad Wentworth. Vandalia Bond and Casualty. You know him?”

“I don’t know him, but I’ve worked with Vandalia. What did he want?”

“Sounds like he’s got a job for you. Something to do with Americana Pictures.”

She gave me the number and I told her I would check in with her later. After three rings, a very soft voice answered at Vandalia Bond and Casualty. I identified myself and asked for Chad Wentworth. The phone was picked up following a couple of seconds on hold.

“Mr. Collins?”

“Yes, sir, what can I do for you?”

“I understand you’ve worked for us in the past?”

“Right. A few years back. What’s up?”

“We hold the completion bond on a picture called Flames of Desire. It’s shooting over at Americana Pictures. Are you familiar with them?”

“Absolutely. Sam Goldberg’s studio.”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, he referred you to us. Apparently a death has occurred on the set. There’s a good chance the project is in jeopardy. We’d like to put you on retainer to look into it for us.”

“All right,” I said, taking my notebook from my pocket.

“Goldberg suggested you come to his office so he can get you up to speed. Any chance you can get out there today?”

“I’m on my way.”

“Fine. I’ve got your previous contract in front of me. Is your fee still the same?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Then until you drop by the office, we’ll use our conversation as a handshake. Is that acceptable?”

“Okay by me.” I wrote down the address as he gave it to me. “Who died?”

I heard him shuffling some papers. “One of the stars. Elaine Weddington.”

My pen froze above the slip of paper as I stared at the phone. After a long moment, Wentworth called my name.

I put the receiver back to my ear. “Yes, yes, I’m here.”

“Is there anything else you need from me, Mr. Collins?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, I’ll look forward to meeting with you.” He rang off and I stood in shock, the phone hanging limply from my hand.

My knees felt like they were going to buckle. A completion bond company insured a movie, protecting a producer’s investment in case something should go wrong during the production.

Something had definitely gone wrong on this movie. And it resonated deeply with me.

Elaine Weddington was my ex-wife.

RED DESERT (Coming Oct. 1, 2017)

** Click the cover image to pre-order online **

I walked into my office and found some mail on the desk. Bills, mostly, save for today’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter and two residuals. The net total of both would buy me a steak dinner, providing it was a cheap cut and I didn’t order any booze or dessert.

A doorway draped with beads separates my office from my living quarters. As I walked through the strands, I was engulfed by the heat that remained in the studio apartment from the day’s sunlight beating through the south-facing windows. Hitting the light switch and the one for the ceiling fan, I peeled off my shirt and opened the French doors overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. I turned on a large floor fan and put it in front of the windows. It didn’t do much good against the dog days of August, but was better than sitting in dead air.

I punched the remote and flipped the television to a Dodgers game. They were losing to the Giants. I grabbed a beer from the mini-fridge and filled a glass with Mr. Beam to keep it company. After cobbling together a pastrami sandwich, I put it and a bag of chips on a footstool, picked up the copy of the Reporter, and leafed through it. I certainly don’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse of the Hollywood scene, but I try and keep up with who’s doing what to whom in the biz.

As I took a bite of the sandwich, my eye caught a story on one of the inside pages. The headline read: WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN SWIMMING POOL.

The story went on to say that Janice Ebersole, girlfriend of Mike Ford, had been discovered nude, floating in the actor’s Los Feliz swimming pool. It had happened last night. Police said the preliminary investigation was inconclusive. The victim apparently had slipped and struck her head on the edge of the pool. Death appeared to be from drowning.

My sandwich sat untouched in front of me. The story hit home. I knew Mike Ford. We had worked together years ago doing summer stock. Both of us had subsequently come to Hollywood, albeit a few years apart. We’d remained good friends, catching ball games together and enjoying the occasional poker night. He’d even provided me with employment a time or two over the years. A mere month ago, he’d invited me along on a trip to Magic Mountain with his daughter and Janice.

I picked up the remote and channel-surfed until I saw local news footage on the story. On the screen Mike was seen leaving his house on Nottingham and crawling into a black SUV. Reporters hounded him, but he had nothing to say. I was stunned. Mike was a great guy and a fine actor. He’d been handed a couple of good breaks and had capitalized on them to the point where he now commanded top dollar. He’d also gone on to direct some of his pictures. His success as an actor had even garnered a handful of awards, the most noteworthy being the little golden guy called Oscar.

The reporter tossed the story back to the studio and they went to commercial—another irritating shot of a couple sitting in separate bathtubs gazing into a sunset.

I nibbled on the pastrami sandwich, which tasted like Play-Doh. I sipped my beer and absentmindedly surfed through a few channels, finally landing on Turner Classic Movies. All of a sudden, coincidence exploded from the screen. There in front of me was William Holden floating face down in a swimming pool. The scene was from Billy Wilder’s classic, Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond’s delusion eventually led to the demise of Holden’s Joe Gillis.

As I listened to Holden’s voiceover, the similarities between reel and real life came cascading into my head. Art imitating reality? Not quite. Unlike Norma Desmond, Mike Ford hadn’t lost his senses. Of that I was certain. What he had lost was a girlfriend.


** Click the cover image to pre-order online **

My cellphone went off, and law-abiding citizen that I am, I pulled over, put the car in park, and looked at the screen. It was Carla Rizzoli, my client.

“Hey, Carla. Thanks for getting back to me.”

“I’m glad you called. I’ve got some great news.”

“What’s that?”

“I got booked on that movie I told you about.”

“Well, all right. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. I start on Monday.”

“That’s terrific.”

“Any news on your end, Eddie?”

“A little, actually. Where are you?”

“At the Follies. I’m between sets.”

“Well, I’m in the neighborhood. Thought maybe I could swing by and bring you up to speed.”

“Absolutely. You know where it is, right?”

I told her I did and said I’d see her in a bit. Popping into a gentlemen’s club in the middle of the day wasn’t something I was accustomed to, but hey, business is business, right?

I nosed back into traffic and continued west on Century. At La Brea I turned right, did the same on Hardy, and then a left on Larch. The street held a mix of apartment complexes and single-family dwellings. Phil Scarborough’s address was on the left. I parked across the street. The house was small and painted egg-shell blue. A front yard was neatly trimmed, and a set of rose bushes ran along an open porch. A red Toyota RAV4 sat in the driveway.

I walked up to the threshold and noticed an elderly black man next door. He was on his knees, working on an array of yellow flowers surrounding a small tree in his front yard. When he saw me, he sat back on his haunches and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

I knocked on the aluminum screen door. Venetian blinds covered a window and the only sound I could hear was a plane approaching LAX from the east. I knocked again and turned to look at the Toyota RAV4, locking the license plate digits into my head. A third knock also resulted in nothing, so I turned to go and saw a small gap appear in the Venetian blinds. Someone was inside but wasn’t about to answer the door.

As I started heading back to my car, the gardener next door got to his feet and stepped to the edge of the driveway. “I ain’t seen the guy lately.”

“Phil Scarborough, right?” I said.

“That his name? You got me. Never really met him.”

“Is this his Toyota?”

“Don’t rightly know. I seen another fella show up a few days ago. Could be his.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Nice-looking yard you got there.”

“Whatchu lookin’ for him for? You police?”

“No, sir. Publishers Clearing House. He might have won some money.”

“Sheeet, man. You yankin’ my chain. Crawl back in your fuckin’ car and skedaddle outta here.” He shook his head and started walking down his driveway.

I got behind the wheel, picked up my camera and zoomed in on the Toyota RAV4. I took a couple of shots and then focused on the license plate and got all the digits. While I was at it, I aimed the camera at the window with the Venetian blinds. This time the gap was bigger and a person’s face was clearly visible.