An all-new Romantic Mystery set in the Golden Age of Hollywood is out this week from author Sophie Lark, and I have a sneak peek for you.
“Mr. Heller, Alice Bloom is here to see you.”
“Send her in,” Heller barked.
He stood up from his desk to shake my hand. He was medium height, a little stout, with a three-piece pinstriped suit and a pocket square. His hair was parted on the left, heavily Brylcreemed to remove as much of the curl as possible, and slicked over to the right. He had a round face in which his long, bulbous nose came down to the lipless vertical line that was his mouth. He wore a pinky ring and a gold wristwatch.
“So sorry about your sister,” he said without much sincerity. Then he actually looked at me, and his expression changed completely.
He squeezed my hand hard, pulling me closer to him so he could peer into my face. He looked me over, head to toe, his eyes gleaming with interest and his breath quickening.
“By god,” he said, not letting go of my hand. “You look just like her.”
“Yes,” I said.
I was too used to hearing it to be surprised.
People thought Clara and I were twins from the time we were small—her a little short and me a little tall, so we were almost the same size. My mother used to dress us matching to encourage it.
Once Clara started appearing in films, people would stop me on the street, thinking I was her.
“You’re taller,” Heller said. “Not so skinny. And your hair is lighter.”
“Mm,” I said.
I never minded looking like Clara, because she was so pretty. But Heller saying it gave me a pang. I realized that before long, in the not-too-distant future, people would stop saying that. They’d forget about Clara. I wouldn’t look like anyone anymore.
“Sit down,” Heller said, offering me the chair across from his desk. It was lower and less padded than his own chair.
“Mr. Heller,” I said, “I want to know what happened to my sister.”
“Well, it appears she was killed,” Mr. Heller said uncomfortably.
“I’m aware of that,” I said. “Who did it?”
“The police are investigating.”
“And what have they found?”
“Well . . . well it’s difficult to say.”
“That’s unacceptable,” I told him. “My sister was murdered. She was strangled to death, four days ago, on your studio lot.”
“I’m well aware!” Heller said, his temper rising. “I’ve had reporters and cops swarming everywhere, not to mention the little problem that we’re two-thirds of the way through one of the most expensive movies ever made, and we’ve just lost our star!”
“How inconvenient for you,” I said coldly.
“Well, it is a consideration,” Heller said. He was squinting at me again, his dark eyes sharp and appraising. “Have you ever acted? ”he asked abruptly.
“Would you like to?”
“What?” I frowned at him. “I’m trying to discuss—”
He interrupted me. “What if you were to finish the film? Take your sister’s place?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped.
“We can’t re-shoot all the scenes she’s in,” Heller coaxed. “It would ruin us. We’ve got to use a double. But there’s still so many speaking parts. You could do it—you look like her, and you sound like her too, or close enough.”
“I have no interest in acting,” I said. “I came here to make arrangements for my sister. And to see justice done. I know how things are done here—I won’t allow this to be swept under a rug.”
“No one’s trying to sweep it under a rug!” Heller said, getting red in the face. “These sets are enormous, you have no idea. There’s hundreds of people all around. We had a hundred extras just for the battle scene.”
“And I notice security isn’t particularly tight,”I said, thinking of the guard reading his magazine.
Heller turned redder still. “There’s usually no need!” he cried. “This is hardly a common occurrence.”
I could see he was flustered and defensive, which seemed like the perfect time to make my request.
“My sister’s funeral will be held tomorrow at St. Mark’s cathedral,” I told him.
“I’m sure all of the crew will want to attend,”he said. “Your sister was very well-liked.”
He was trying to pacify me.
“I’ll need a check for eight hundred dollars to cover the expenses,” I said. “Made out to Forest Lawn Mortuary.”
“Eight hundred—” Heller sputtered.
My mother always told us that when you meet a hard man, you have to be harder. She used to say, Strength only respects strength.
“My sister was killed at your studio,”I repeated. “While filming your movie. I’m sure you don’t want her buried in a pine box in a pauper’s lot? What a story that would make for all those rabid reporters.”