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Esther Luttrell

Murder In The Movies  --  EXCERPT



I realized I was dog tired and dying to dive into the pile of fat pillows and what looked like a down comforter, but the woman had planted the seed of ice in my mind and now all I could think about was a long, cool drink of water. I grabbed up a ceramic pitcher, cream colored with hand-painted roses, and tromped down the walkway as she’d instructed. Sure enough, the path led to my left and there I found a lit alcove and the ice machine along with soda pop and snack dispensers. I shoved the pitcher up under the lever which released an avalanche of shaved ice then I headed back to my room thinking about nothing in particular except how good cold water was going to taste. I wasn’t in my alert mode, as I would have been at Helen’s. I was aware that the moon was suddenly hidden behind a sliver of cloud. I was aware that I seemed to be the only tenant in an otherwise empty inn. I was aware that my soft soled shoes were making a lot of noise on the walkway ... and that was all I was aware of when an arm shot of out of the dark from behind me. The ceramic pitcher went flying into the air and my feet flew out from under me as I hit the ground. It happened so fast that everything became a blur. I didn’t have a clue who belonged to the arm or, for that matter, to the fist that slugged me. I remember seeing feet, but the image I had was that of black tennis shoes belonging to neither male nor female. Maybe I should say, belonging to either a male or a female, I had no idea which. I rolled over, clutching my jaw, as footsteps ran away from me, heading toward the street. But my reflexes were too slow. I didn’t get so much as a glance at my attacker. I sat there on my tailbone, holding my aching jaw, rocking back and forth, trying to take it all in. When I finally got up, I retrieved the pitcher, or what was left of it, and staggered back to 102 where I locked the door behind me. Then I closed and locked the window, snapping the shutters closed, too. After that I sat on the side of the bed, trying to decide my next step.

I couldn’t call the police for all the reasons I’d never called them up to this point. I wouldn’t call Caroline and Michael. No need to upset them, though I would tell them about the incident in the morning. What I needed was to talk to Donald. A production assistant located him on the set. I didn’t give him the details. I just said I’d been attacked, that I was fine but shaken and could he come out when he could get away. I unlocked the door and waited. He arrived within the hour.

In the interim, I’d taken a shower and washed my hair with that pretty bottled
stuff B&B’s always provide for guests. I smelled like a carnation. I looked like hell. The lower half of my face was turning a snappy purple, and my rump had a knot on it that felt like a boulder when I tried to sit on anything but the down comforter. That was the picture that greeted Donald when he knocked and I called for him to come on in.

“What the hell happened?” he said, closing the space between us.

“Shut the door.”

He closed and bolted it before returning to me. His face was crinkled with concern. “Who did it?”

I shook my head and patted the space beside me on the bed. Instead, he pulled a white wicker chair up close, sat down, and took my hands in his.

“Well,” he said, “we can rule out rape and robbery for motive.”

“We can also rule out tiny woman and woman in wheelchair.”

He leaned back, studying me. “You sure about that?”

“I don’t know, Donald. I don’t know anything. I don’t know if Lane killed Richard, I don’t know why the jerk was screwing Henny and his secretary. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing to help Helen, and I sure as hell don’t know what I’m doing here.” I could feel tears building. More than anything in this world I didn’t want to cry. But I did. Not big weepy globs, but little wet trails of pure frustration. Donald moved to a place beside me and put his arms around my shoulders. I don’t care who says what, right then it was good to be female and it was extra good to be southern. I rested my head against him until the waterworks closed down and I could take a deep breath. It wasn’t until then that he got to his feet and paced.

“A warning.”

I scoffed. I’m a really good scoffer.

He shrugged. He’s a really good shrugger.

“So, who do you think decked me?”

“Dorothy’s husband?”

“Why?”

“You said he gave you an odd look when you confronted his wife. Maybe he doesn’t want you bothering her anymore.”

“Couldn’t he just tell me to go away? He doesn’t look like the physical type. Besides, how’d he know I was here?”

“How’d anybody know you were here?”

“Somebody was following me?”

“Looks that way.”

Somebody that was watching Caroline’s apartment in the first place? But who knew she was staying at her friend’s apartment? Or was it somebody who followed me from Helen’s then waited for their chance to let me know I wasn’t welcome in California?

Donald moved to the table and perched on the side of it, watching me. “Who considers you a threat?”

“Well ... Henny.”

He nodded. “She’s probably found out by now that you were at her place.”

I knew he was referring to the next door neighbor and the likelihood she told Henny how her Scottish sister, Jenny, stopped by the house. Henny would have seen the news reports and put two and two together. She’d know from those reports that I was staying at Helen’s and could have followed me tonight ... But, damn, she was so tiny! She couldn’t clobber me like that.

“Taking you by surprise,” Donald reminded me when I said as much, “she could probably do a little damage.”

I rubbed my jaw again, feeling the little damage grow larger by the minute.

“What about Richard’s secretary?”

I’d already considered Marcie. If she saw the news, and I was sure she had since the entire world was following non-stop reports, maybe she’d want me to cease my snooping. I remembered the wide hips and swimmer’s shoulders, and knew that she could indeed deliver a wallop if she put her mind to it. But why would she go to such lengths?

Donald sighed and got back to his feet. He put his arms around me again and when he looked down at me, his blue eyes were clouded with fatigue and concern. I realized for the first time how much he’d aged since I’d been gone. I wondered if I’d gotten that much older, too. He patted me on the back, kissed my cheek.

“I think you’re safe enough tonight,” he said. “If they’d wanted to do you real harm, you wouldn’t be here to tell me about it.” He let go of me and unlocked the door. “I tell you one thing, though, Katie ... this cinches it for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll bet my next year’s bonus Wagnor was poisoned, and not by Lane Allison.”

“You think I’ve opened up a can of worms and someone’s afraid of what I’ll find while I’m out fishing?”

He grinned, that great wrinkled grin I had always found such comfort in. Then he opened the door. “Go on back to Florida and tend to the your animals. It’ll all come out in the trial.”

“You think I should go to the police?”

“There’s not enough for them. They’d chalk up the night’s incident to random violence, not unheard of even on this island anymore, I’m afraid ... or else they’d try to blame the media for attracting some nut off the street who followed you and made you a target for who knows what reason. No, Katie .. for you to tell them everything you know would only be to put another nail in Lane’s coffin.”

“But what if it doesn’t come out at the trial?”

He mulled the question over for a bit, then looked at me with a troubled expression. “You’re not going back to Florida any time soon, are you?”

“No.”

His chin nearly touched the collar of his shirt when he shook his head and sighed. “I didn’t think so.” He stepped onto the threshold, looked across the courtyard, then in both directions. Everything was quiet. “Lock up behind me and plan to move out of Helen’s place as soon as you can.”

“I can’t really afford -”

“I’ll stay with friends. You take the houseboat.” He dug into his pocket, removed a key ring, took a set of keys off it and tossed them to me. “Think you can find it?”

“San Pedro. Under the bridge. Out past the old Naval shipyard”

“Good girl. Go straight there tomorrow. I’ll stop by after work.”

“It’s Saturday.”

“This is the movie business, Katie. Nothing like the real world, remember?”

And he was gone.