Loonies in Hollywood
CHAPTER ELEVEN ANOTHER MURDER
I was at my studio office Tuesday morning when I got a telephone call.
My office-and I use the word office with prudence-for it is really a small-and I do mean small, as in
closet small- corner room tucked away in a rarely used building. But it has a desk and typewriter where I
write scenarios for the moving pictures, stories that are rewritten by stars, directors, producers, and
Last year I wrote a western about a young women whose father died, left her his small ranch, one
that a wealthy cattleman wanted and tried to take away from the young ingénue heroine, but the ranch
was saved by cowboy passing through who stopped at her ranch to water his horse. By the time the
motion picture was in theatres, it was a present day story about two rival newspapers, one of whom was
owned by our still young ingénue heroine who inherited one of the newspapers from her recently
deceased father. The newspaper was saved by an out of work reporter passing through who stopped at
her paper looking for a job.
Though trying to solve Bill’s murder for a big shot administrator here at the studio who’s office is
spacious, sumptuous, and unlike mine-which is far from the madding crowd-the essential hub of a busy
hive with bumbling yes men buzzing about, I still had picture work to do, which was why I was at my
office writing a story about two rival newspapers, one of whom was owned by young woman whose
father had recently died and a young male reporter looking for a job who would save the newspaper and
of course win the girl.
It sounds familiar for a reason. I figured if I submitted the story, the higher ups would say we just did
this picture last year, you schmuck; but if we change the two newspapers to two ranches and make it a
western we might have a good picture. That is how you get your picture made.
And that was what I was working on when the call came from of all people Clancy.
“Hello Ducky. If Eveleen ever takes the handcuffs off you let me know. You are just so pretty.
Anyway, before you interrupt to honorably defend your lovely wife and inform me you are too normal-
which you are-for this hot flapper- I called to tell you your friend Gawen was found dead this morning. It
looks like he was bumped off by a drug dealer or a slat, who knows. He was found on a dirt road near
the reservoir, but the odd thing was, he was missing his dog kennels.”
“His dog kennels, you know Mr. Straight guy-his shoes. His socks too. His puppies were bare.
Anyway, I mean I thought you should know, since he was a friend and all.”
“Not really a friend of mine, just someone I once knew.”
“Yes but your dear wife knew him back in New York. I mean we girls do talk you know. We are chatter
bugs aren’t we. I am sure you have a copper friend you can call for more information if you want. I have
to run as I have a rendezvous with a booklegger.”
“A booklegger. You do speak English don’t you? A booklegger deals in suppressed and banned
books and I am simply dying to get my hands on that book that is banned in dear old America, the one by
James Joyce, called “Ulysses.” It’s all the scandal and this booklegger has a copy. It will cost me a sweet
penny I am sure, but I mean, I just have to read it. I’m off.”
I called Eveleen to let her know about Gawen but there was no answer, so I called Tom to see if he
knew anything, but he was out of the office. I doubt Gawen’s death-if Clancy had her facts straight-had
any connection to Bill’s murder. On the other hand what are the odds of having two people you know
murdered in less than a week? I can’t rule out the connection.
I stared at the typewriter wondering what was going on and it wasn’t the story I was writing that
occupied my musings. All the events of the past week ran through my mind with blistering speed,
images randomly jumping in and out of my mind’s vision, my brain unable to control what I was seeing or
thinking. How was I to make sense of it all? Why does a studio executive want me to look into the
murder? I am not a detective. What woman had been following Eveleen and me and what connection
does she have to Bill’s murder?
The truth of the matter is that my mind is functional for movies but dysfunctional for reality and as I
continued to ponder like a poet over forgotten lore, there came a rapping at my office door. I reached
towards the doorknob, turned it, and opened the door while still seated in my chair. As I said, my office
is small. In walked Julia Ivers.
“Good morning Chet. I was just wondering what progress you are making?”
The question cleared my mind and got me to focus on business at hand.
“Well, I have a twist that should make a powerful ending to the newspaper movie I am working on…”
“Oh for God’s sake Chet, I don’t mean your story, I mean finding Bill’s killer.”
I thought to tell Julia about the phone call from Clancy informing me of Gawen’s murder, but for
some reason I stopped myself. I doubt she knew Gawen, so it would mean nothing to her, though she
might have some ideas about two murders being more than coincidental. Do I have a detective instinct
after all, one that was starting to kick in? That maybe for some reason I should not talk about Gawen’s
murder? If so, I can’t think of any possible reason to keep mum about, but mum I was.
“It looks like Sands killed him. The circumstantial evidence certainly points that way.”
“That is what the newspapers are saying.”
“But there is something troubling me, one key problem that cast some doubts about Sands.”
“What would that be?” asked Julia.
“Faith saw the man leave Bill’s porch shortly after hearing what she thought was a gunshot. She didn’
t recognize the man, but it was dark, he had a scarf or muffler around his neck and the cap was pulled
down a bit, so it could have been Sands and she didn’t recognize him. Sands was long gone from Bill’s
employment, so she wasn’t expecting to ever see him again, so he was pretty much diminishing from
her memory. She probably didn’t see Sands that much when he worked for Bill anyway. The thing is, a
man matching the description of the man Faith saw was seen at a nearby gas station asking directions to
the Taylor home and other witnesses place a similar looking man on the street where the man Faith saw
was headed. The man was also seen on a trolley. So who was this strange man? Sands knew where Bill
lived. He would not need directions. The pieces don’t add up.”
“I heard,” said Julia, “that the police were looking for Sands up in Oakland where he worked.
Apparently he was signed in for work the day of the murder, so he could not have killed Bill if he was
working up north.”
“But they haven’t found him yet, have they?”
“Not that I know of.”
“So if he has disappeared, that looks like guilt to me. If he was working that day, then he had no
reason to take it on the lamb. If he didn’t kill Bill, then he would have gone back to work the next day
and everyday since then.”
“I guess so. I just don’t know.” Julia paused for a moment looking out the window, sadness in her
eyes. “Bill still has two pictures coming out you know. I worked on both of them. “Green Temptations”
comes out next month, then “Top of New York” in June. I don’t know if I feel good or bad about that. By
June what will have happened? Will Bill’s killer have been caught? Will we have gotten on with our
lives, the grief a faint memory, only to have his last picture remind us of everything all over again? Will
we have to relive the pain?”
“You are asking questions that I have no answers for. I can’t think about June, let alone next month.
I guess we should just deal with today; tomorrow’s worries can be saved for tomorrow.”
“So what kind of story are you working on today?”
“The usual melodramatic audience pleaser, wherein our hero meets girl, saves her business, they
live happily ever after, but not before heartache, evildoers, and suspense.”
“Can you make it a comedy? I need some laughs.”
“Better go see a Chaplin then, because by the time this picture gets made you may not need laughs.”
“Oh we always need laughs. Well no matter how you write it, just make sure it has a happy ending.
Real life doesn’t, but the audience must never know that.”
Julia left leaving me alone with more thoughts than I needed. The writing mood had left me. I
remembered Eveleen wanted me to buy a new radio and I figured I better buy it today, so I drove to the
same store I bought the previous one from.
Out of habit I looked back to see if I was being followed. I saw no familiar car. But I did see a familiar
face as I pulled up to the curb and parked my car.
August Carlson, who was almost to the door of the store I was going to, stopped and looked back. A
flash of recognition flashed on his face, a quick little startle, but he regained his composure, his
eyebrows furrowed as if trying to remember something.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I don’t believe I know you.”
I walked up to him, his hand on the doorknob.
“I see we are going to the same place. Are you here to buy a radio, or did you find one last night in
“What are talking about? I don’t even know you.”
“Oh, you know me. Drop the act. You and Gawen were at that joint the other night and sat down with
my wife and me at our table. Only thing was, you claimed to be Dapper Don Collins, which of course, as I
have since found out, was a lie. Obviously someone who knows you are August Carlson tipped me off.
Did you take my radio?”
“I don’t know nothing about your radio. I don’t even know where you live.”
“Well Gawen does. He told me he was at my house yesterday, the day of Bill Taylor’s funeral, and that
someone was looking for information to blackmail me with. He said that the person-who he would not
name-stole my radio.”
“Why steal a radio?”
“Maybe he likes music. Maybe he wanted to sell it? Maybe when I find who stole it I will get the
“Well it wasn’t me. I’m here to buy one. ”
“So you say. I guess you don’t know about Gawen’s murder then?”
August who had a ruddy face, the type that looked like it had more alcohol flowing through his body
than blood. turned ashen.
“I heard they found his body out by the reservoir. How long he has been dead I don’t know. When
did you last see him?”
“Never mind that. I got nothing to say.”
“Not even why you were pretending to be Collins? What was that about?”
“Like I said I got nothing to say.”
With that Carlson scurried away like a penguin chasing a flopping fish on an iceberg.
He looked genuinely surprised about Gawen’s death, but something had him worried. Was he
worried about himself or somebody else is the question.
The shop clerk remembered me from yesterday and was surprised I wanted the same radio again. I
told her what happened. She said she was sorry and wished she could give some kind of deal on the
radio, but her boss wouldn’t go for it. I thanked her for the consideration, paid for the radio and left, I
hoped, for the last time.
I didn’t feel like going back to the studio. No one would miss me, I was sure of that. No reason to go
home as Eveleen was gone, but where she was I had no idea. I thought briefly of going to my favorite
speak for gin, but was leery of another swoon and I promised Eveleen I would not imbibe without her.
But there was a reason to go home of course. What a clever guy I am. The radio. Get it set up so that
when Eveleen comes home she can play some music.
Two blocks from home I noticed a woman driver come up close behind me and honk. It looked like
our mystery woman. She pulled back a bit and kept a normal distance behind me as I drove up in front of
my house and parked. She drove in behind me and stopped. When she got out of the car I was already
at her door. It was Neva Gerber.
“So you are the one has been following Eveleen and me.”
“What are you talking about?”
Neva is a decent enough actress. She plays in mostly westerns and serials, frequently working with
Ben Wilson in melodramatic cliffhangers that get the audiences coming back for the next installment to
see how they evaded some peril. But she didn’t seem to be acting as her ‘what are you talking about’
line seemed genuine. I looked closely at her. She looked concerned and confused.
“Well Neva, some woman has been periodically following Eveleen and me. One time we spotted her,
she knew we were on to her and she just waved. Eveleen recognized her, but can’t remember her
“If you remember, you both came to see me and Eveleen didn’t seem to think it was me or she would
have said something then, don’t you think? Like ‘Oh my god you’re the one!’ or something like that. I had
no idea you were being followed and can not imagine why.”
“Yeah, she would have said something. Sorry about that. Too many things going on this week, none
of it normal. I guess my head got addled for a moment. Hard to think clearly when your life is not as clear
as it was a week ago.”
I invited Neva inside while I set up the radio. She was just about to sit down when she asked if she
could heat up some water in a tea kettle.
“I brought my own tea. It’s Chinese. Show me where the tea kettle is and I will make us both a cup.”
“You normally go around with tea in your handbag?”
“No silly, Ben bought this for me. I just left a meeting where we discussed another serial we are
going to make.”
While the water was boiling we sat at the kitchen table. She was wearing a navy wool gabardine suit,
the skirt going to mid calf.
“I wanted to check on something. The man the newspapers say the police are looking for, that Sands
character. Is he the killer? Are the police sure? I mean I know Faith saw the guy, there are other
witnesses, but maybe the newspaper is just talking through their hat, stirring things up, you know.”
I remember the possibility the killer could have been a woman and if so, she had to be short. Neva
was about 5’2” in the same league with Minter, Normand, and nearly every woman I could think of,
except Eveleen of course.
“They do believe it is Sands.”
“I was just wondering. My ex called me, which thank God, is a rare occasion. He always felt Bill was
behind our getting a divorce, thinking of course, that he could not possibly be the problem. He was, but
I won’t tire you with all that. He did say Bill got what he deserved, that he was a home wrecker, a
pervert, and was quite harsh in the words he used. I was surprised he called after all these years to tell
me that. It was odd, not only that he called, but he seemed so calm, not angry or bitter, almost relaxed.
Listening to the tone of his voice and all that, it seemed like he was, well, how should I state it, that
maybe he was, or the call was his way of bragging, not that, but his way of saying that he killed Bill. It was
a thought that went through my mind. The whole thing was so odd.”
“You said yourself it has been a number of years. I doubt he would have waited this long, especially
since you no longer see Bill, so he would not be a threat.”
“No but if he still blamed Bill and was seething all these years, waiting for an opportune moment, the
pressure building within him, the resentment just building and building, well, who knows. It’s like no one
would suspect him now. Too much time has passed. Maybe he planned it that way. Waited until there
was no way for him to be a suspect and the police would think just like you said. It is all so diabolical.”
I think Neva, your creative and very fertile imagination, has gotten the best of you. I understand your
feelings and thought process, and I loathe feeding your hypothesis by giving credence to it in saying it
is a possibility, because I suppose it is, that it could be true. But you can create a story for dozens of
people who could have killed Bill and they all will have some believability to the story. You can create a
killer out of anyone. While it may seem a possibility to you now, I think the evidence leads in other
directions. I wouldn’t worry about it. I doubt your ex is the killer.”
“Are you sure?”
“As near as absolute as I can be.”
“I am sure you are right. I just wanted to hear you say it I guess.”
The tea kettle whistled. I brought out some cookies, home baked of course, to have with our
Chinese tea. We had a normal chat about our business; normal, but with a lack of interest on both our
parts, more a time killing conversation while we drank our Chinese tea and ate cookies.
After Neva left I went about setting up the radio on a table, fine tuning some stations, and just when I
nestled into a comfortable position on the couch, their was a loud and authoritative rap at the front door.
I hated the thought of getting up from my relaxed and contented position so I sat for a moment
longer, lingering in my pleasure, breathed out a long slow sigh and after the second rap at the door, got
up to answer it.
It was my friend Detective Tom Ziegler. He was not alone. There were two squad cars in the middle of
the street and thee men in blue uniforms with nicely polished badges standing behind him. Tom looked
“Sorry Chet, but I am here to arrest you for the murder of Gawen Wainwright.”