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Authors: Jonathan Latimer

Black Is the Fashion for Dying

Black Is the Fashion for Dying

Jonathan Latimer

MYSTERIOUSPRESS.COM

FOR

JO ANN

Cast of Characters

Richard Blake—
An up-and-coming young Hollywood writer, he worked hard to revise the ending of his script, but it didn't come off exactly as he'd planned

The Naked Blonde—
An ivory-skinned Dresden doll, the elusive Miss Omaha turned out to be a most enjoyable and very vital clue

Karl Fabro—
An odious, cold-blooded studio head, the atom-age Thalberg knew Caresse was box-office poison, and yet he couldn't fire her—for very good reasons

T. J. Lorrance—
The only “maybe-man” in Hollywood, he was the only one Fabro trusted, and he could be counted on to do what he was told

Irene Fabro—
A plump, rather docile woman, Fabro's wealthy wife couldn't give him everything he wanted, but he got it anyway

Edgar Allan Pixley—
A “poet, genius, prophet and fanatic,” Caresse's only real love survived long enough to reveal the truth

Caresse Garnet—
A self-admitted bitch fox, the star on the skids played her last scene to perfection, but didn't live to hear the applause

Ashton Graves—
A pathetic, past-tense leading man, past husband of Caresse, he couldn't make a comeback in either line

Josh Gordon—
A quick-witted, outspoken young direc tor, he was forced to improvise and he managed to supply a most unexpected ending

Lisa Carson—
A stunning starlet who had as much love for Blake as she did not for Caresse, she began by holding the gun and ended up holding the bag

Mrs. Grumpert—
A mere wardrobe woman, but a woman all the same, who had lost her husband and twenty years of her life to Caresse

Richard Blake

He first heard the sound somewhere around quarter to eleven. It wasn't an unusual sound; an automobile engine running idle with the irregular beat that meant a faulty carburetor adjustment and the rattle that meant loose tappets, but he realized irritably, becoming aware of it, that his nerves had been hearing it for a long time.

He spun a new page into the typewriter and savagely typed 127 at the top, thinking: why in God's name, in his own house, couldn't a man have a little quiet!

Outside, the motor continued to idle.

The long good-bye, he thought, imagining a couple wrapped mouth to mouth on a soiled mohair seat. Or burglars in the next house, with the getaway car waiting at the curb. Or a black sedan, mysteriously empty, key in the ignition, tank full of gas, the Mary Celeste of cars—

Knock it off, he told himself. Get on with the typing. Troubles enough for one night, without inventing any. The unfinished script,
Tiger in the Night,
with two million dollars riding on the tiger's back and one day of shooting left; the phone calls, petulant, insulting, demanding, imploring; and the
big
quarrel.

Why wasn't he a plumber?

He scowled at the blank yellow page and wrote:

EXT. JUNGLE CAMP
—
MED
.
SHOT
—(
NIGHT
)

By the fire the native cook and his helpers chatter as they prepare dinner.
CAMERA PANS PAST
them to Masterson's tent as McGregor emerges, limping awkwardly on his game leg. He pauses a moment by the tent pole, to steady himself. (Note: Here establish that Masterson's holster, with the Webley in it, is hanging from a nail on the pole.) McGregor's face is preoccupied, somber, apprehensive. It's not just that the hunting party is late: he feels intuitively that something has gone wrong. But what? He glances at the servants.

MCGREGOR

Be quiet!

The chatter stops. The old hunter turns, stares out at the dark trees, listening. He is asking the forest a question, but there is no answer.

No answer except from that damn engine! Why didn't they shove off, Richard Blake thought impatiently; neckers, burglars or ghosts. He eyed the sunburst electric clock on the study wall. Almost eleven and at least four pages to go. He'd be up all night. He was bending over the typewriter again when the phone rang at his feet, the sound muffled by the heavy carpet. He untangled the extension cord and lifted the receiver.

“Blake here,” he said.

It was Lorrance, Karl Fabro's executive assistant. His voice, as usual, was oily. “I hope I'm not inconveniencing you.…” he began.

“You are,” Blake said.


Karl
asked me to call. He's worried about the script.”

“Good! Maybe it'll knock a few pounds off that big gut of his.”

The oil got gritty. “There's a certain option coming up next month, Blake. I suggest—”

“And I suggest you—” Blake broke off, realizing that quarreling with Lorrance was like trying to swim in a sea of Jell-o. “Tell Fabro I've finished.”


Really?”

“Yep. Every last word engraved on stone tablets right here in my study.”

“He'll be very pleased.” There was a moment of silence. “And, Richard, I'm sorry I mentioned the option.”

Option! Blake thought as the line went dead. Who was Lorrance kidding? He knew the studio policy as well as Lorrance did. No more contract writers. He was the last one, the last shaggy buffalo of a nearly extinct herd, and they were only waiting until option time to shoot him, stuff him and hang him over the studio gates.

He began to write again, conscious only intermittently of the motor outside. The words clicked in place as inexorably as the words on a Teletype machine. It was all in his head, but, even if it wasn't, the dialogue had been immortalized before in
Mogambo
and
The Macomber Affair
and a dozen other epics. He brought the half-caste girl, Ahri, into camp, gasping out to McGregor her story of the plot to kill Adrian Phelps, and then wrote the scene by the jungle pool with the smiling close-up of Barbara Phelps as she hears the shots and thinks her husband is dead. He wrote the last half of the tiger hunt and was just carrying Barbara, pretending to be unconscious on her litter, into camp when the bell snarled at his feet.

This time it was Herbie Adams, the picture's assistant director. “How you doin', genius?” he asked.

“Round fifteen. Bloody but unbowed.”

“New sets?”

“Same people, same sets,” Blake said. “Tiger hunt, scene by the pool, and the big wind-up in camp.”

“Zow! That's a relief! I was afraid I was going to have to build the Taj Mahal or something.” Herbie paused, then asked cautiously, “You manage to cool off Lisa?”

“I got the wrong bucket. Gasoline instead of water.”

Herbie made a sympathetic clucking noise, said, “Try champagne next time,” and hung up.

As the phone dropped into the cradle at his feet, Blake recalled Lisa's last furious words before she had vanished into the L.A. smog. “You and Caresse!” she'd whispered, her voice husky with anger. “I could kill you both! And one shot would do it!”

A shot below the belt, he reflected. Sure, he'd taken Caresse out a couple of times at the start of the picture, or rather she'd taken him out, a queen conferring favors on a lowly subject, but that was as far as the favors went. He'd never been near a bed with her. In fact, the one time bed was mentioned he'd—

He shut that strange Freudian scene out of his mind and thought about the quarrel. It wasn't really over Caresse; it was over
Tiger in the Night.
Over the ending. Boiled down, it was simply a matter of who was to have it: Lisa or Caresse. Lisa, as Ahri, the half-caste girl in love with the young white hunter, was convinced she should kill Caresse, playing Barbara, the murder-plotting wife of the rich American. This would be the next-to-last scene. Then Ahri would have the last scene, giving herself up to the authorities for having done something out of primitive innocence that was morally right, but contrary to the false laws of society.

In a way, Blake had to admit, Lisa was correct. The ending might give the picture a little meaning, make it something more than a tropical strip tease, and it might very well make a star of Lisa after six years of bit parts. The story's original author had written it that way, but he, and Lisa, had failed to reckon with Caresse, who'd finally gotten around to reading the last pages yesterday.

The explosion had been a memorable one; a six-hour tantrum that halted shooting, sent stage crew and extras scurrying for shelter, actors into hiding, and caused a series of pyrotechnic collisions between Caresse and Josh Gordon, the director; Caresse and Blake, Caresse and Lorrance, Caresse and anybody within reach. Unexpurgated, Caresse's complaint was simplicity itself. Caresse was not going to be killed. Not and give the picture to a little tramp obviously recruited from a phone number on a toilet wall. Caresse had gone along with a lot of things; lousy direction, corny dialogue, costumes direct from a bargain basement, but this was the final straw. Caresse was
not
going to be killed!

Finally Karl Fabro himself, unlighted cigar clenched between thick lips, a troglodyte out of an air-conditioned cave, had appeared on the set.

“Don't argue,” he'd growled at Blake. “She's the star. You don't argue with a star. Fix it like she wants.”

So Blake, the eager drudge, had ad-libbed a new ending. Barbara merely wounded by Ahri and then, shocked into reality and repenting her evil ways, renouncing the young white hunter and returning to her husband. The old regeneration baloney.

It had sounded fine to everybody except Basil Trabert, playing the husband, who wanted to know what kind of a goon would crawl into the hay with his wife after she'd tried to murder him, and Lisa, who produced some hysterics herself. Talked out of quitting the picture by her agent, Abe Luskman, she turned on her nearest and dearest, i.e., one Richard Blake. From accusing him of trying to wreck her career so she'd be forced to marry him (not a bad idea, at that) she progressed to charges of conspiracy with Caresse, based on a professed belief that he was secretly having an affair with her. It was on this preposterous note that she had left the house two hours before, whispering her Parthian “… one shot would do it!” line.

Glancing at the sunburst clock, Blake wished for the twentieth time he'd been bright enough to put up some sort of a token argument with Fabro. It wouldn't have done any good, but it would have placated Lisa. Mouse loses girl, he thought, at the same time noting with surprise it was only five minutes past eleven. Outside, the engine was still running.

He pushed the quarrel out of his mind and began to write again.

TWO SHOT—AHRI AND MCGREGOR

Simultaneously, they catch sight of Barbara being carried out of the jungle. McGregor limps off towards the litter bearers.
CAMERA HOLDS ON
the half-caste girl. Her eyes narrow as she watches the arrival of the foreign woman who has not only destroyed her happiness, but made a murderer out of her beloved Masterson. She glances down at the holster on the tent pole beside her, at the Webley within the holster.

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