Murder: Hollywood style

Chapter 1. A BUSINESS PROPOSAL

 

Of course you can easily refuse gentlemen, shall you consider your mission unpleasing, but just think about it!

Why is it such a big deal to spend three weeks on a tropical island, with all Western comfort provided at the whole team's standard, obviously, in the company of charming people and beautiful high-life women?

And for this vacation, because it is a vacation, you will be rewarded 25.000 dollars cash, or a cheque if you prefer?!

The chubby little man, with a red and sweaty neck, who was sitting behind the massive mahogany desk, raised both his hands, as if he were trying to capture the cool conditioned air just for himself, air that was meant to transform the hot atmosphere of Los Angeles of these days into a cool oasis, mimicking the bearable just as the movies try to mimic reality.

It seemed that the cold oxygenated air was not enough for this important ridiculous character, whose place behind the desk made him look like Gulliver in Lilliput. With a dramatic gesture, like those seen in the Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel movies, he drew a big, checkered handkerchief and started wiping his hot face up to his large forehead, where his rubicund baldness began, punctuated by a few white strands of hair at the temples.

At the same time, he had set his little green greasy eyes on us, trying to anticipate our final decision by even one second. As if it would have helped him somehow!

What can I say, Mr. Roderick? The proposal is indeed extremely tempting. From multiple perspectives, not only because of the money, although money also plays an important part, especially here in America.

Still, before we dive without looking by accepting this, I confess, overly generous offer, I have some questions regarding our duties and responsibilities, intervened my friend, Marian.

Don’t let it embarass you. Shoot it out, gentlemen!

First of all, why did you come to us for this job, which is clearly more suited to a security team, namely to bodyguards, which I am sure Los Angeles has plenty of? We are not known in the country and we did not benefit from the services of a publicity agency. To put it simply, who gave you the tip?

It is not hard to give an answer to this question, mister Farrow. You are too modest, and you are underestimating the depths of the American journalism industry. Your adventures in India, and the recent ones in South America have brought you in the public’s attention, especially after the interviews given by the people you have helped, Uria and Bocanegra, to mention just a couple. I do not want it to seem like I am flattering you, but to sum it up, gentlemen, you are well-known and appreciated, and your names are enough of a warranty.

A warranty against what? Or perhaps who, Mr. Roderick? And now for the second question: What exactly is our mission, accompanying the so-called shooting crew on that tropical island?

It’s all or nothing, Mr. Farrow. Pardon my disorienting, almost paradoxical answer, but that’s just how things are.

It depends on your luck, so to say. It is possible that your assistance should not be required at all during the stay there. Between you and me, your presence should be most discrete. Of course, this will not affect the terms and value of our contract. It is also possible things should happen in reverse.

Sometimes, during filming, the tension grows. Even in this paradisiacal environment, our work involves gathering notorious stars, who are often hot-tempered, like their stock shares, and who are insured on substantial amounts.

Not to mention our technical shooting crew, lead by our director Mr. Kevin Lassiter.

 Your presence there will make the team less stressed from working in an isolated but still exposed place. You will act as a security team.

And this includes coastline safety, because of the tides, weather conditions, sharks, drowning danger etc. The reason for all this is that there will also be shooting in the water.

My dear gentlemen, I also know that you always work as a trio, and your black companion is known to be both a strong and very agile, loyal and clever guy.

In other words, as far as we, the film company, are concerned you are a capable and reliable trio, thus...a successful brand.

The danger is not limited just to the external factors mentioned, water, currents, sharks, water getaways. The security of such a complex shooting crew can be undermined even from within.

In this, sadly more important instance, as you can tell Mr. Roderick, our hands are tied.

Naturally, in this case, you will be exonerated from the responsibility. But not if the threat comes from outside the group, like natural causes, animals or even people.

This can be strongly stated in the potential contract.

I would like to insist on this matter, and not only formally, Mr. Roderick. That is if we take your offer. Our trio, which you have so accurately defined, works based on everyone’s free consent. Even if I would accept, there would still be two thirds I need to convince.

Yes, yes, Mr. Farrow, that is understandable. Would it be okay if you could give me your final answer by tomorrow at noon?

Until then, one of our lawyers will draw up the contract, which you will decide later to sign or not. Is it all right like this?

It’s OK, Mr. Roderick. ‘Till tomorrow at noon!

A handshake between us and Mr. Roderick sealed our temporary agreement, which would be effective starting tomorrow...

Whatever will be will be!

                                             ****

 

Holy cow, Marian! I wouldn’t have suspected this in a million years. To be asked to be bodyguards for a bunch of American movie stars!

Eh, what would you have wanted then old pal? Didn’t you yearn to be the lead?

I haven’t developed my acting skills yet, but why not? Everything has a beginning.

Yeah, right! I can almost see Robert Bertram, the fearless cowboy, “riding in the sunset” with a young lady, who he saved...

I thought it wasn’t a western movie. As far as I know, Mr. Roderick mentioned a detective story during the conversation.

You are absolutely right, my dear Robert. It was “Murder: Hollywood style”, or something like it. But even so, you could still be into it. You could be some kind of Philo Vance ( the intelectual type hero of American novelist S.S. van Dine, hero with special investigative intuition), the one who unravels the mystery of a criminal plot.

This sounds more like your part. It’s exactly your field of action and communication. You are more refined, more inspired, and you have the patience of a feline stalking its prey. Too bad for you that the screenplay and the direction have already been established, I couldn’t help but tease my good friend, Marian, who had both the qualities aforementioned, and many others.

As for me, I would often play the part of the chronicler, of the assistant, doctor Watson or Harry Taxon, always vainly dreaming to be at least one step closer to the skill of my master and mentor, "Sherlock Holmes".

Talking about this and that, but mainly about the tempting proposal from Mr. Roderick, we ended up on Bellevue Boulevard no.87, where our hotel was, with its fated name of “Hollywood’s Inn”.

Pongo was waiting for us, lying down with his legs spread on the chaise-longue in the living room, watching with interest the metronome movement of the huge fan breathing cool fresh air into the room.

Who knows if the massive black guy wasn’t thinking of a plan on how to introduce part of the Western comfort in Iibatta, his home village, in his heated country, the belgian Congo. All kidding aside, our very serious and meticulous giant friend jumped to his feet as soon as we entered the waiting room.

The answer to Marian’s question was quick:  Nobody had looked for us, and nobody had called us while we were gone. This wasn’t a surprise considering the fact that we had recently arrived in town and we knew so few people.

That’s why we had been so surprised by the morning call we had received from Mr. George W. Roderick.

Since we were already out after we had lunch, we passed by the studio of this American film mogul, curious to see what business he had with us. 

As usual, Pongo, our dark-colored friend, an introvert and openly opposed to all official or mundane meetings, had declined Marian's invitation to accompany us at Mr. George W. Roderick film studio’s office downtown.

Now we found him with his eyes open and his hands clasped under his head, watching the movements of the fan’s blades as if he were seduced.

Well you see, my dear Pongo, this is the advantage of the American-style civilization. While you struggle to obtain food by chasing a “gnu” antelope through the savannah with a spear for hours, these gentlemen dine without having to do anything but walk into a luxurious... and cool restaurant. But if you want to be an American...

Pongo does not want this, masser! He want learn and sees more and more of this world before he be a spirit. Until then Pongo accompany massers and is happy with this.

In a few words, Marian presented the good-natured giant the proposal we had received. It’s not that Pongo would have any objections in regard to the intentions and itinerary we planned. He would have followed his massers to any part of Earth they would have wanted to go to, without complaint.

However, this was Marian’s style, and thus, mine as well. It’s the least we could do! To try and get our friend’s formal agreement for any undertaken adventure. In this regard, we encountered, once again, no objections.

As far as Pongo is concerned, it was clear from the start that he would follow us anywhere fate would take us, be it the North Pole, the South Pole, or the desert of Sahara.

Had we suggested a trip to outer space, in some kind of racket, with minimal survival or returning chances, I am sure the giant black guy would have followed us even there, sharing our fate.

Moreover, since he had been traveling all over the world with us, our friend had had the opportunity to see and marvel at all wordly mysteries, of which he had never even dreamed of, but he always kept his balance and showed a sovereign equanimity, either he hunted a lion with a spear in his country’s savannahs, in the midst of the Bakutu community he belonged to, or going up with the elevator to the Empire State Building’s last floor terrace to admire the view of New York at night.

For him, all the events were a part of life, and since life is in itself the biggest mystery of all, and the biggest miracle, nothing else could impress or affect him more.

A philosophy of the common sense man we would do good to assimilate ourselves.

Even if a technical wonder, or some other type had impressed him, and all of us, one of those wonders discovered here in the new world, as North America or the United States is also called, he wouldn’t have shown it. It was some kind of inherent chastity suitable for this simple and wonderful grown child, who was Pongo.

This was the personality of our good black friend, and I felt good thinking that now I know him pretty well.

 

CHAPTER 2. AN ACTRESS’ DESTINY

 

Lana Bosworth looked at her hair in the mirror. Her light brown hair was falling in undulating waves on an Aphrodite-like bust, framing the slightly chin extended oval of the young woman. The immensity of the ciel-blue eyes, and the sensual round lips were the main points of attraction of a face with strong, regular features which revealed her strong personality.

Having just graduated from the courses of the prestigious “Modern art school” in New York, she gained the opportunity of her first cinema debut through the contract her agent had acquired.

What girl doesn’t dream, in her intimacy, about becoming a diva of the big screen, alongside the models that had inspired her, accompanying her through childhood and adolescence, models like Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, working with partners, famous actors like Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable or Errol Flynn?

 Why couldn't she triumph basically overnight, like Vivian Leigh did in “Gone With the Wind”?

It all depended on the chance and opportunity of being discovered, or, why not, on her finding a director or producer herself, one who would trust her talent, talent which she knew, from the bottom of her heart, she had.

Yes, she had acted in a magazine’s group, vaudevilles or plays in the theatrical season, and she had also had singing, piano and dance lessons, an important part of being a free-lancer.

But these opportunities that were available for everyone, even if they were complemented by attending a drama school, didn't always mean a ticket to fame and accomplishment.

No matter how good you were on the stage of a small neighbourhood theatre, it didn’t give you the right to aspire to that “Worldwide-fame” the American cinema divas enjoyed, since Lumière’s miraculous invention.

When she thought about all the work she had done to convince her parents, against the Victorian views and morals of her small hometown of Buffalo, she felt a wave of emotion and pride warm her blood.

Yes, she had made it, or more precisely, she was about to make it in a tough competition, in which many take part, but you can count the winners on your fingers. And you only need the fingers on one hand!

In addition to beauty and talent, sine-qua-non conditions in showbiz, the competitor must also have intelligence, perseverance, spirit of sacrifice, and, last but not least, luck. When all these ingredients as part of the recipe for success are mixed in the right amount, then and only then can you hope to be favoured by Fortuna, the goddess of fortune.

          Lana had no illusions about this. She had known girls that were maybe more beautiful and more talented than her, but who’s light died out before it shone, like a butterfly who recklessly got too close to the dangerous flames of success.

Winning beauty pageants in Buffalo, or being rewarded with diplomas upon graduating from drama school meant nothing if you weren’t noticed. At most you could hope to have a convenient marriage with the pastor’s son, or to seduce one of the city administration councilors. And this kind of dull ambitions were not for Lana.

And in this big world run by men and often for their benefit, her career depended mostly on the whims of such a man.

         Be his name either Kev Lessard, or big Kev, or producer Hymie Stavanger.

        Stavanger rarely engaged in executive work. This rather dull and obscure man showed up for balance sheets or for the shooting of the last frame, to evaluate the investment made and to anticipate its success.

Lana ran her silver comb through her chestnut hair, combing it with slow movements.

Whenever she performed this partially narcissistic ritual, she would get that dose of optimism and confidence she so much needed, starting with the current day.

It was obvious the great Kev could not be smooth-talked for long, and one way or another there was going to be a final confrontation between them.

But she hoped she would be able to settle it in her favor when she would have won the undisputed rewards of success. Yes, when she will have all the world at her feet and she will be able to make a long nose even at a strong and insidious guy like Lessard!

And then there will be nothing standing in her and Roger’s way, threatening their dream.

Roger ...! Roger Trollope, the charming young man she had met in her small and bland hometown, Buffalo, who she was sure remained absolutely inconsolable on hearing the news of her leaving to study. When was the last time she had seen him? But all the letters and telephone calls, even if daily, could replace even an hour tête à tête with the person you love.

Suddenly, a door was slammed loudly, and scatterred Lana’s most tender dreams as throwing a stone into a lake.

One of her shooting colleagues, who was even younger than her, newcomer Maida Manning, burst into the small room that was their wardrobe, showing big, but juvenile unrest.

­­- Lana, Kev said to be on the set in ten minutes. They are shooting the first frames on the headland’s beach...

 

                                               ****

Antonella Melandri, the young actress of Italian origin, already known to the general public from short but successful television series such as “The vampire’s kiss”, angrily kicked the beautiful China vase with young yellow gladiolas mixed with adult stems of red roses.

­­­­- What, Mark? she screamed in her agent’s ear, the experienced but always tired Mark Edwards. You still don’t know what tactics to adopt to convince that snob producer that I’m the best choice for the lead role in "Hanibal ante Portas"?

Sick of so many promises and emotions waiting for the right role, the one that would forever make her a leading actress of the big screen, the frustrated and temperamental Italian tried another kick, this time with her right leg, that had the outcome she had expected.

The vase broke in dozens of pieces, scattering the flowers that now looked like pieces of bloody meat on the yellow-green background, with water flooding the huge Persian carpet in the hallway.

You idiot! And you call yourself my agent!

Nella, darling, please! I am truly sorry, but the game had already been set. That blockhead of Mc. Dermott ruined everything! But right now I have another piece of good news for you...

If it’s as good as the last one, you can just go to hell. And take Li Wong with you!

          Li Wong was her Chinese nutritionist, the one who prepared her diet and provided her skin-freshening cataplasms and what not.

Li Wong was also in charge of preparing natural adjuvants during the day, with miracle plants whose secret he boasted he knew. They were to be used after the endless shooting hours when she felt in a bad mood or tired.

Unfortunately, even the secrets of Oriental eternal freshness haven’t turned out to be, in her case, a universal remedy. The exhausting days of shooting, diets extended beyond any medical reason, the nights spent at banquets and parties, didn’t fail to reveal their sad consequences.

But when, in her privacy, she entered the room with a jacuzzi for her daily freshening and regenerating bath, the contemplation of her naked body’s immaculate perfection in front of the large Venetian mirror was always a source of optimism and spiritual robustness for Nella Melandri.

However, it wasn't the same the last few days. The legs have already started to show the frightening bumps of cellulite, barely noticeable to the eye of an expert for now, of course. The thighs also showed hardly noticeable excess fat, despite the agonizing diets that only God knows how hard she tried to follow, but it was no less potentially dangerous for tomorrow.

It wasn’t a big deal, and only a trained eye would have seen these imperfections, which were noticeable only with a magnifying glass. And still!

A twenty-five year old woman must think about the future. And especially about this: you”re not getting younger darling  you have to do something about it!  How many times had she not heard these lines from her so-called older friends, who envied her and hypocritically said they are just warning her.

That’s why the precedent that now belonged to her was so important, and she was so angry with the incompetence she had already surrounded herself with.

In showbiz, you must take advantage of every opportunity, the time of day also being important, not just the day itself, considering all the girls that were younger than her, not without talent or beauty, always ready to cast her shamelessly aside. The share of success on Broadway in New York or in Los Angeles’ Hollywood had about the same up and down fluctuations as the Dow Jones index at the stock exchange on Wall Street. A true law of the jungle, perfected by the biped "felines" with the sweetest smiles on their lips.

And Mark dared to miss a moment like this! This slow and gloomy imbecil, who finds even getting up of a chair a burden!

           From now on, that was it for the carefree years of adolescence!  When she was still a higly promising “teen-age-girl” she had the whole world and her future at her feet.

          Still, life had been good to Nella. Intoxicating success from the start, loads of admirers who pressed to give their praises at the feet of this splendid exotic beauty, who came on uncle Sam’s land from sweet Italy, bringing with her the lifeblood of a mysterious land, rich in flowers and relics, but stunningly fresh.

Loads of secret admirers, but also directors, producers, executives of movie companies and everything.

She had made a few short movies, with box office succes, but unfortunately, everything that followed was not to the extent of her talent and expectations.

A few successful movies had followed, but for some, they were far from the effervescence of the initial promises.

And to top it all off, she didn’t do so well even with men.  Married twice, between two filmings, with quick divorces in Vegas, and now this petty relationship with Richard, which she didn’t know how to end; or couldn’t.

Moreover, this insipid Mark wasn’t even able to firmly negotiate her contract with the MGM movie company.

She had been dumped, to say it straight, like a kid, because of a who knows what new Mid-West newbie, but flexible enough to satisfy the lewd whims of some Metro Goldwyn Meyer moguls.

It stinks, Mark, it stinks! She said promptly to the old man who did nothing but smooth-talk her for a month.

And now he is here again, supposedly with good news, the damn idiot. What the hell did he come up with now to make me feel better?!

                                      …………………………………………………………………

 

 Maida Manning !

 Maida was lying on the chaise-longue at the exposed end of her porch, showing off her well proportioned body, dressed in a comfortable bikini, enjoying the beneficient rays of the day star.

She purposely chose these hours in which the heat was bearable, and she only dove in the nearby swimming pool every forty-five minutes or so, to cool off and to recharge her body with freshness and energy.

Maida Manning! From the cover of “Vogue” magazine she was holding, a lovely young lady was smiling at her, also dressed in a bikini, on the edge of a pool.

The color of the shades she had on her forehead matched perfectly her big round eyes. As for her face, it wasn't the classic kind of beauty, the cold and distant type of those beauties you admire, but don't warm your heart; it was exactly through its juvenile asymmetry, exuding a special charm, and radiating such joy, mystery and refinement that it could have warmed even the heart of the most cynical Eskimo of the Arctic Circle.

And concerning her perfect shape, starting with the protruding bust to her long legs, well developed and rounded as if they were made with the brush of a Tizian or Raffaelo, they were meant to cause, seen live, pauses in the breathing of every man aware of his status, in a wide range from fourteen to ninety-four years.

Maida had heard not only once men complimenting her body, saying it was a true machine for creating electric shocks, capable of bringing to life even the cyclops or centaurs petrified in marble on the Acropolis. 

Yes, one could say that from this point of view, maybe the most important aspect for a woman aware of her femininity and sensuality, she had every reason to be happy.

She was aware of her beauty and charm, of course, but she still wasn’t completely satisfied, just like every perishable and mortal being on Earth.   No, not yet!

Apparently, more than her talent, it was her looks that had been crucial in boosting her in the fulminating successful series that began when Neal Poolenhole presented her at a competition for starlets in Hollywood. Hollywood, this temple for polishing the refinement and natural charm of any actress in the making, both stop and step, sine-qua-non, towards fame and fortune, whose stairs she didn’t dare to step on just a few months earlier.

What could she do here, the daughter of an obscure bank clerk, Hank Manning and of her mother, the once beautiful Mexican, Rosa la Puerte? Sure, her friends and acquaintances had always encouraged her; and not to mention the attention she got from the boys, combined with the envy of the girls of her generation.

There were so many arguments in favor of her potential, right?

And now, the proposal finally came. A proposal that would boost her to a first class star if, according to her, she would accept to play in the movie financed by Hymie Stavanger. The very name of the Hollywood showbiz mogul was a guarantee for success. His movies have had such a huge box office success up to now that they have provided Stavanger a profit five-six times bigger than the amount invested.

It was also true that he chose his directors from the elites, even if they weren’t the most notorious.

After all, this showed the talent, hand and eye of the producer, who knew to choose his people not by appearances, but according to their true potential.

And what is there to say about the actors? You had to go through a real filter of the secret services implanted by this man in the studio and outside, to serve his interests, and to gain access to a role in his productions, however small it may be.

It isn’t about the fact that no matter the quality and importance of this first role, big or small, in the cast of the shows guaranteed by the company’s brand, you received afterwards the best recommendation, regardless of the movie company you turned to.

Maida was anxiously waiting, in her exuberant and juvenile way, to start the first day of filming. She was convinced that this was more or less akin to the success slide, the complete and total success she had never stopped dreaming about, and that would finally be put into motion...

For her, for her wild dreams... for the millions of fans that she would gain for life... just for her...

 

CHAPTER 3. ON THE TROPICAL ISLAND

 

The bay’s water borrowed an ethereal glow at the dawn of this first majestic day, when the yellow-reddish rays of the shinning star were filtered, slanting from behind the wooded peak.

As far as the eye could see, there was only the matt blueness of the flowing waves, driven by an almost imaginary breeze to the most distant horizon.

The peace and quiet, the greatness of the natural environment that embraced in perfect harmony the green fertile soil and the encompassing and mysterious blueness of the sea, under the azure dome of the sky unsullied even by a trace of a cloud, as thin as it would be, made you feel like you were in a huge natural cathedral, alerting the unique and solemn time everyone has implanted in their mind.

Cathedral in which the officiating priests were the evergreen elements of nature. Still the same and yet forever changing, in a mixture of unique and common as life itself.

So I stood at the edge of the southern shore of the bay, overwhelmed by the truly heavenly appearance of these lands. Looking back, there was a silent and perpetual threat rising from the sea like a Cyclops, the wooded mountain tip of the island where, years ago, a few enthusiasts had made a chapel. Mountain, jungle, sea, son, these are the ingredients that make the simplicity of a truly scenic place a generator of ineffable spiritual satisfactions.

Not even on Mount Tabor could the two disciples of Jesus experience a deeper fusion with nature, with the things created by God's hand.

And if fate would have wanted, after so many events on seas and oceans, in the jungle and savannahs, to end our journey of shared adventures here, I would have suggested to Marian that this be it, “the elephants’ graveyard”. Our own cemetery!

Hei, Robert, the lively voice with invigorating imperatives of my friend Marian pulled me out of my morning dream-state. From the looks of it, you seem to be getting ready to play the lead yourself, that of “Prince Charming” waiting for a muse...

You’re not at all far from the truth, my friend, I said. Everything here makes you prone to daydreaming.

And that is exactly what we don’t need now, Robert. Have you forgotten that we are the watchdogs that must secure this idyllic place? For the real actors on this stage, of course.

I huffily stood up and went for a morning routine inspection of the most exposed coasts of the island, where I knew they were planning to film.

We had arrived that night, on an American transport company’s plane, on the great island of San Nicolas. From there, with the help of two motorboats and a barge bursting with materials, we landed on this small island, the sister of the other one, about twenty miles apart.

It was just a small satellite of the main island, just as the Moon is for Earth, but with imperial exotic beauty. Its main advantage was that it was somewhat isolated from intruders, the residents of the main island and the numerous tourists that turned it into an invaded land, no matter the season.

There had been a full moon and this chance could not have been missed, and although many of the charms of this unusual land stayed hidden during the night, I immediately sensed the truth.

For more than a month, the team of workers and engineers in assembling that had come from the San Nicolas island had raised a filming studio with a pure Yankee precision, strictness and speed, on one of the many plateaus of this small piece of land, which I didn’t even know if it had been given a name.

Cottages for living had been prepared, some kind of small bungalows with all the necessary comfort that could be implemented in this wild environment, decorations with all related accessories.

In fact, the boss had warned us, or rather, he had warned his team:

Ladies and gentlemen, behold, we are here, he said, consulting his wristwatch, six minutes before midnight.  I expect us to get to work tomorrow, let’s say, not so early in the morning, but at eight o’clock. Don’t forget, all preparations must be done in time. So as I can say at precisely nine o'clock, no minute later...action! Any objections?

Understandably, there were no objections. According to the company’s custom, if there were objections, they would be made known during the shooting. The most headaches would be given, as expected, by the actors and actresses with ambitions.

And indeed, the director, that rough man, prematurely aged, with piercing gray eyes, and with a red goatee mixed with white hairs, had kept his word.

He had been the first one up, at six o’clock, and had inspected by himself the shooting grounds, alerting his people and the staff on duty.

Only the actors and actresses that were supposed to act that day had been given the approval of coming to the joint meal at half seven, before they went to bed.

As it had been decided, at eight o’clock, all the materials had arrived on the “ramparts”, cameras, props, settings and every ingredient needed for a demonstration of cinematography in full progress...

 

                                           ****

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Derrick Wooton, our cameraman, cheerfully said Lessard, pointing slightly towards the tall, well-built young man, who had just finished installing his instruments on the solid tripod on the beach.

Everybody take your place. Camera, action! Here we go!

Sedgwick Calhoun, the protagonist of the movie they were shooting, appeared on the beach, freshly out of the water with drops still dripping on his naked, muscular and tanned chest. Calhoun steadily walked towards Melissa la Page, who was lying provocatively on a chaise-longue, with a book that sat lazily in her hand, partially supported by the table with a bowl of fruit and a see-through pinacolada cup, freshly removed from ice. Half of Melissa's face was covered by the large sunglasses, and her beautiful blond hair, swept and brought back, was drying under the lavish rays of the day star.

Honey, why didn’t you come in the water with me? asked Calhoun, stroking Melissa’s still wet hair. You have no idea how refreshing and invigorating a morning dip can be.

As you can see, Cal, I was up earlier than you.

That was all I could hear of the conversation between the two, who were being immortalized on film and on the sound plate by Derrick Wooton.

I had picked the area on this side of the coast to test the underwater currents and the possible appearance of predatory fish from offshore, so I had had my fair share of bathing. I had been the first one up, although this was of no concern to anybody, and I would not be remembered for this, simply because I wasn't one of the actors, I was just a guard "dog".

As for Marian and Pongo, they had taken on a totally different task, which they completed successfully, about the same early time of day. They took a motor boat around the island, thus also inspecting the several kilometeres long nets that the organizers had put up to prevent the intrusion of any shark in the perimeter of the shooting area.

Of course, this huge net did not surround the entire island, which would have been a giant undertaking and would have consumed a large part of the budget. It just covered those part of the bay where they intended to shoot the beach scenes, the portions that lacked the alloy steel wired nets that not even the saw-like teeth of a tiger shark could gnaw away into.

From this perspective, the organizers had thought everything through, and now, whoever wanted to swim in the calm water of the bay could do so without any inconveniences.

I did not witness the hot scene that was about to take place on the heated sand since my job demanded my presence in other parts of the coast.

I checked and explored the islet thoroughly all day long, as to avoid any surprises. I had already known, before setting foot on this rocky coast that this patch of land, lost in the immensity of the Pacific had no inhabitants. If the flora was well represented by a lush forest on the wide plateau in the middle of the island, with its giant eucalyptus trees, this wasn’t the case for the animal kingdom. The most important representatives were the wide variety of birds, the small rodents, snakes and insects which populated the vegetation and the cliff cracks.

The size of the island, or rather its smallness and the scarcity of housing conditions kept this piece of land unexplored and untouched by human hands, if only by accident, leaving all those prerogatives to its bigger sister, the island of San Nicolas, rich in both humans and animals.

The director hadn’t just randomly chosen this exotic, scenic and natural setting to shoot in. It was all decided after careful consideration.

First, the islet offers the priviledge of solitude, in the same time not being isolated at the edge of the civilized world.

Necessary supplies and manpower could be found on the neighbouring mother island, in whatever numerical or amount quotas needed.

Second, the obvious isolation of the shooting crew allowed the actors and the staff to effectively focus on the main job, without being distracted by the temptation to socialize, by getting to know their peers, by teasing and boring actors with a bunch of open-mouth interferences or by fans asking for group pictures or autographs.

Moreover, this natural satellite of the main island, San Nicolas, was rich in exotic landscapes of incomparable beauty, untainted by culpable human intervention.

As small as it was, the virgin forest had all the ingredients of a real jungle, being a reduced copy of it, presenting the current and adjacent dangers of a genuine secular forest: savage tribes of natives, big animals of prey, dangerous for humans, climate hardships and what not.

Instead, this little island proved to be a true paradise for birds, represented by the most diverse species. From seagulls who gathered in flocks on the beaches, to the hummingbird and countless varieties of parrots with impressive colourful plumage even to the eye of an experienced ornithologist.

I had already been walking through this cobweb of plants, making my way through it like in a real South American jungle when suddenly, a strange noise made me slow down.

It was as if there was a rumor of human voices, carried high, which was unlikely to happen in a small grove like this. Anyway, there were no natives around here, so there was just one alternative. Maybe some of the staff chose this exact location to solve their issues. Since I had gotten closer, it seemed it really was about an argument. An argument between people!

Who knows if they hadn’t had the intention of exploring the island's natural resources from the start?!

I was surprised to realize that one of the voices belonged, without a doubt, to a representative of the opposite sex.

Naturally, if this conversation had gone on on a calmer tone, I would have walked away, since it wasn't at all my business, if a couple had chosen this natural setting for a romantic date.

There were enough beautiful men and women on the island for this to be inevitable, eventually.

Yet the dialogue, which in the meantime had become coherent enough for my ears, was not at all an amiable conversation. Let alone a “broken heart” one...

Roger, I already told you! Nothing happened between Kev and I. You’re being ridiculous!

And I keep telling you. If you take me for a fool, you are dead wrong. I’ve already forgiven your sordid past once, not anymore.

What do you mean? Why would my past be darker than yours? Everybody knows about your Brooklyn stunts!

Then the endless bars where you always had debts and the rehab clinic, whose fairly high price I paid, make you think that you are better than me?

You little cheap ordinary slut!

From the place I was standing, five-six meters away from the clearing where the “friendly discussion” was going on, I couldn't have missed how the aforementioned Roger's cheek was surprised by a couple of slaps. 

He fought back by grabbing her and her screams of pain penetrated the silence.

The insulted male wanted retaliation and a physical correction from the physically better endowed one was sure to follow.

I don’t like this sort of thing. I never did! At least of chivalry, a man should never hit a woman. Precisely because he is stronger, he is forbidden to take advantage of that. Even if he was provoked, like this seemed to be the case.

Against all reasoning, which, to my disgrace, I happen to forget quite often, I got involved in the heated argument which was none of my business.

I ran, or rather crept the few meters along the narrow path that lead straight to the clearing and came out in front of them.

Indeed, I had been right. In front of me were a man and a woman, caught in a grip that was far from being the normal one of a couple seeking solitude and.... "passion" in the woods.

Stop it right now, Sir, I nervously shouted. Let go of the lady, for I do not tolerate such a thing while I’m around.

My sudden outburst temporarily calmed the thrust that threatened to escalate into a fight between the two warring parties.

Who the hell are you, pops, what dump did you come from? Are you maybe Homo Neanderthalis? came the quick stuffy answer of the furious young man in front of me, whom I recognized as one of the actors, a certain Roger Penrose.

My name does not matter. What does matter is my status here.

And what is that, dweeb?

To maintain the physical integrity of the members of this shooting crew. So settle down and resolve your arguments amicably. And your bullying of this lady is at least despicable.

But the infuriated man in front of me was not ready to listen to reason.

He focused his entire rage on me, the outsider, remembering to say:

How did you figure that one out, pal? You think I’m willing to listen to the preaching of just any nincompoop?

 And saying these last words, Penrose, who by then had given way to his victim, instantly turned towards me, sending a hook to my chin, which I only barely managed to make it bounce off my left cheek.

Surprised and utterly annoyed that I dared to resist him, making him look ridiculous in the eyes of the one he had just abused, Penrose lunged at me with a flood of hits, which at first, being surprised, were hard for me to face.

I stuck to defense, without damaging his “physical integrity” which I had just committed to maintain.

Eventually, I managed to restrain him in a grip that I had practiced in Brisdon's dojo on the island of Jawa (see volume "Life and death"), the so called twelfth restraint of control via back, known in the Judoka, makura kesa techniques - gatame.

Well, mister, you let go of your anger yet? It’s a bit different than molesting a woman! As you see, I didn't smack you in the face, because you need it for the movie. Promise to behave from now on?

But Penrose kept trying a few times to escape. Finally, he realized he wouldn’t succeed unless the one restraining him would let him go.  And this wouldn’t happen unless he changed his attitude.

Fine, mister, I promise! he groaned in the end. I carefully let him go, and it appeared that he had learned his lesson. He didn’t dare to show any aggression towards me or the girl, but it was clear that this self-imposed control hurt his dignity a lot.

His eyes flashed fire and if he could have, he would have stricken me down with just one glance.

Still, he was smart enough to realize I was not the right guy.

As for the freed young lady, she gave me one of the most graceful smiles she had endlessly rehearsed in the movie scenes she had been in.

Mille grazia, signore. Nella Melandri, she gratefully reached out her hand.

You were just like a real knight, in a time when they have been long gone. Just as you see, she resignedly tilted her head slightly to the penitent “gentleman” next to her.

Mia piacere, signorina, I galantly answered. My name is Robert Bertram. Is everything OK?

Yes, I believe it will be from now on, signor Betram. Roger is not usually offensive, just ill-mannered. But he’ll get over it. Right, darling?

Whatever you say, Nella, babbled Penrose with frustration.

In that case, if things go on peacefully, I am off, I said as I turned around, leaving the two competitors in the clearing to solve their differences by other means.

Except that Penrose, full of venom, couldn’t help but cry out after me:

I’ll remember you, Betram. I’ll have you pay for this!

Sure, sure, be my guest. Write my name down so you won’t forget it, I couldn’t help but respond, this very human weakness.

There was a dirty swear word which I will not reproduce here.

I walked away, leaving them to sink or swim.

 

                                                ***

We gathered together at night, in our bungalow. And I mean just with my friends, Marian and Pongo.

They too had had a full day, checking everything that could become dangerous on our island.

Marian had carried all day with him a diving suit, making countless dives in the bay waters, surrounded by a “sanitary belt” of meshed wire.

This was meant to ward off potential aquatic predators, especially sharks coming from the open sea, but Marian hadn’t excluded the possibilty that there may be nest of polyps, or commonly known as octopuses, that could be present somewhere under water, in the rocky shore, but also the coral rocks formed over time.

It wasn't an easy job and, sadly, Marian was the only one to find a proper suit. The ones who had delivered the diving suits didn’t even imagine that somebody of Pongo’s size would need them.

Even so, the giant black guy participated in the dives, not being able to stay underwater as long as Marian with his oxygen tube could.

Well, Marian, did you find any rupture in that installed nest? I asked.

They worked well and efficiently with it, Robert. It’s not the sharks that I’m most worried about right now.

What else is there?

You know very well that you could easily miss a nest of squids or sea polyps.

As much as I examined the steep rocky shore till the bottom, I couldn't find anything, and neither did Pongo.  But the danger is still there.

Of course there is, you can’t possibly examine every inch. It’s just unlikely. Maybe it’s like when you cross the street when there's traffic. Even at a stop sign, some lunatic can run you over.

You have a point, but we should at least be at peace. What did you do today?  Anything you need to report?

I told my colleagues the result of my exploring the jungle, or rather the grove, for jungle is saying too much.

I did not say anything about the incident with the couple of actors. It’s wasn’t relevant for our mission.

       Do you at least know those you were hired to protect, Marian? I mean the actors and the shooting crew, director, cameramen, photographers and so on.

So, in your opinion, they are the only ones who need protection?

I didn’t say that, but we cannot be responsible for the safety of all the people involved in this production. It would be too big a task, it would be over our heads, if we haven’t overestimated our capabilities up to now.

  Of course, we can’t guarantee anything and fate could always play a trick on us. The main thing is for us to be at peace with the thought that we have done everything possible to prevent any disaster, Robert.

You still haven't answered my question. Do you know those you want to protect?

Not more than you do. You even got to know a pair today, of actors I mean.

I was stunned how Marian had already gotten to know this fact. Could one of the two have told my friend about the whole thing?

Stop frowning like that, Robert. Penrose did come to me to rat on you. But that was his version.

I wasn’t satisfied with just that so I also talked to the girl, who told me a completely different version, so it’s not necessary to be grumpy.

I’m not really interested in what Penrose said, not even about the actress, I said, a bit hypocritically. But these were just two. If there are this sort of tensions in the crew, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tore each other apart first, in spite of our precautions.  

Marian agreed with me, that there was nothing we could do in this case. Our abilities were limited anyway.

From the talk with my friend, we could identify a main group of actors and technical staff that needed protection.

The actresses were Lana Bosworth, Nella Melandri and Maida Manning, but I had only met Nella. As for the actors, they were in order of their roles’ importance: Umberto Scandolo, a stray Italian like Nella Melandri, at the Hollywood studios in L.A. A young sturdy and muscular man, who had been a part of the world of professional boxing and who was now playing the lead in the movie, Sedgwick Calhoun. Then there were Bellamy Scott, Clifford Sangster and Sexton Sturgis, all three experienced actors, around the age of forty. Sure, there were also others that had episodic roles or extras, insignificant enough to not mention them all here.

Above all of them, there was Kevin Kenneth Lessard, the man who coordinated everything, taking on the responsibility of being the director, with his entire production team, which included Derrick Wooton, the cameraman, and his two assistants, Spike Denton and Ron Stavert.

This talk about actors and actresses ended our first day of the work we had been hired to do by Mr. Roderick, the associate and confident of Stavanger, the producer.

                                                     *****

 

A beautiful day, the sun unshaded by any sign of clouds on the blue horizon. As it were trying to be in line with the untainted mirror of the sky, the sea spread majestically like a blue-green carpet in the distance, a slightly wrinkled carpet under the waves of a barely perceptible breeze.

The sun had not yet reached its zenith, and the temperature was still bareable, and we had at least another two or three hours before the heat of the day star would make us all drowsy.

This was the best time to work, together with the time late in the evening, two-three hours before the sunset.

Lessard’s team was already on the beach and the first tapes had already been rehearsed before the final call was given...action.

I knew a bit of the script of the movie, even though I hadn’t read it to know it by heart, as was the case for the actors that had to do it. At least from the many scenes that needed redoing and to which Lessard always had some kind of objection or something to add.

Now, I told myself, comes the water ski scene again, in which Calhoun and Melissa, Umberto Scandalo and Lana Bosworth cross paths in the water before they both head towards the beach where a hot love scene would take place.

I was on the shore not far from the area surrounded for the shooting, watching the actors act like it was for the first time.

I had seen movies at the cinema but I just now realized how much work was put in making a good film.

Sometimes tens and hundreds of retouches if something didn't fit in with the plans of the director.

Marian and Pongo were there as well this time, a little aside, in the motor boat, as to not get into the area of Derrick Wooton's shooting.

They had surrounded the island the second time, probing the coral reefs that would often just barely show in the water, being a potential danger for every boat or water skier that would recklessly go past the bay’s barrier. This wasn’t expected to happen considering the strict instructions given by the director to not exit the safe zone.

But what was that? It was unlikely this was part of the directing since this scene hadn't been rehearsed until now. Maybe because of imprudence, or maybe because of Calhoun or Lana, the two protagonists clashed. In an instant, the beautiful heroes in the water were down, raining on Wooton’s parade, who had already started shooting in a hurry. Of course they had to cut and the scene needed to be redone now.

The two young people that had their skies mixed in the water were now the target of their colleagues' jokes and ridicule. Only the harsh and dark Lessard hadn’t smiled at the unfortunate mishap of the lead actors.

Now everyone who was watching had their share of satisfaction. Frustration and envy are very human feelings and cannot miss from any human community. Especially from one in which very strong characters clash and compare.

Suddenly, from the lips of one of those who were watching, a horrified scream was let out.

From somewhere around the wire net, but in its area, a dark shadow was getting closer to the two swimmers who had still not managed to get their skis free, with the speed of a torpedo.

 It took just a few sightings of the dorsal fins of the underwater monster that was closing in to realize what it was. No, I couldn’t be wrong! It was a shark, by all means, and a big one at that!  But how could such a calamity have happened?

It was just yesterday that my two friends had told me, pleased, that the wire net was strong and well rooted! Could it have been one of the tiger sharks that managed to break through with its chainsaw teeth?

But there was no time for discussions, intentions or thoughts. It was clear to me that the lives of the two actors were in serious danger.

Marian and Pongo had no idea of the drama, or perhaps even the tragedy that was about to happen in a few minutes right under their eyes. I didn’t hesitate for a second.

I took out my Parabellum from my waist and targeted the approaching monster. Still, I was aware that even if I did hit it, my bullets couldn't do much harm to the sea beast, especially if they would slide along its scaly skin or didn't hit some vital organ. And how could they, given the distance and the poor visibility of the target?

Besides, between the shark and me, there were the two actors that I could have accidentally hit with one of my bullets. Imagine that!

But what else could I do? My desperate gesture was meant not as much to finish off the monster, as to get the attention of my two colleagues in the boat.

Thankfully, Marian noticed promptly the events that were about to take place under his eyes and now, starting the engine, took off quick as a lightning towards the confrontation spot.

The next minute, a second monster, raging and rash, jumped from the boat driven by my friend. It was none other than Pongo, who had thought it was appropriate to do an acrobatic plunge to cut off the monster that was heading towards the actors.

Still, the huge black guy had about ten-fifteen meters before reaching the imaginary direction aggressor-victims.

 Could this brave black man cover this distance in time, before the monster could grab one of the two unfortunate ones who were not yet aware of the danger they were in, and were struggling in the water to set themselves free and swim together to the shore?

I doubted this would be possible, because no matter how good a swimmer our Pongo was, you can never compare with the fish in its element.

And even if he were able to do it, this kind of confrontation is impredictable and it’s not always in favour of the human. On the contrary, the fish is almost certain to win.

Of course, Pongo had gained a lot of experience in this kind of battle and I could count on him winning, especially since he never parted with his huge shark-splitting knife, and neither did he now.

Maybe our big black friend had made a mistake by jumping too fast in the water, before Marian could get close enough.

The latter turned his boat toward the monster, getting right in its path.

What Marian was trying to do was extremely dangerous, because after the impact, the boat could turn over and my friend would be all alone in the perilous proximity.

But he, staying true to his mission, put his life on the line to protect others.

It was just like my noble friend to do this!

And as for me, as helpless as I was, I didn’t even dare to shoot another bullet in the water considering the risk I was exposing Marian and Pongo and the two water skiers to.  And what I feared most did happen. The boat my friend was in collided with the shark, but not frontally because the sea monster dodged, but it was enough for the boat to turn over and for Marian to be thrown like a cannonball, overboard.

What happened in the next few seconds was an underwater helter-skelter, a whirl from which you could only see the stirred waves and the water drops darted in all directions. Undoubtedly, both the man and the sea beast, being dizzy from the impact, needed a few seconds to recover. Thankfully, those seconds were enough for the big black man, who disappeared underwater the next instant.

It took more than a minute, or maybe even two before the curly hair of our friend appeared at the surface. Immediately after, a concentric spot of blood, which gradually grew wider, could be clearly seen near the overturned boat, and in its middle was the monster's belly, pierced by the brave black guy's knife, like a well-deserved offering to the sea.

But what had happened to Marian? But no! His head showed up right next to the two actors who were still fighting the stirred waves of the sea event, helping them get safely to shore.

 

CHAPTER 4.  THE FIRST MURDER

 

A round of applause rewarded the water-hunting performance of my two friends. They had been the heroes this time, real heroes in a life and dead battle, while the actors turned out to be... ham actors!

Still, there was someone who was not excited. And it didn’t even surprise me that much that it was the director, Kev Lessard.

How was this possible, mister Farrow? Of course, I appreciate you risking your life, but still!

You said that no sea monster could go through the wire net.

That’s what I thought...and I still do. Come with me, Mr. Lessard, to examine the net together.

Pongo, who in the meantime had pushed the motor boat to the shore, managed to turn it over. Now, after removing the water and having examined the engine that had stopped working, took the boat to examine the mesh, using some improvized paddles.

There were two options. First, the creature had been inside the surrounded area without giving itself away until today, which was hard to believe. Second, despite what Marian had thought, the perseverance of the seven-eight meter long tiger-shark had been rewarded by somehow gnawing away at the net and managing to get into the waters of the bay.

Marian was just about to put on one of the diving suits he had taken of the beach when Pongo caught his attention:

Masser, look! Somebody cut the net with scissors. Such hole cannot be made by shark teeth.

Later that day, Marian told me about the surprising finding. In the mesh, there was a perfectly square cut, which was obviously the work of a criminal hand.

It was now clear that we were dealing with a saboteur, which made our mission considerably more difficult.

What did Lessard had to say about this? I asked Marian.

Just a good old swearing, in his Scottish dialect.

What, you mean Lessard is not a true-born American?

No, Robert, he emigrated when he was old enough to the New World, to try his luck, like so many others. He’s from Edinburgh, the hometown of Walter Scott.

Then I’m not surprised by his tendency for historical movies. As far as I know, his first movie was about Richard the Lionheart.

That’s right, but now he’s shooting a detective movie. And right now, he’s faced with the enigma of his life.

What do you think, who could have committed this attack? Or was it just a bad joke?

Whoever it was and for whatever reason they did it, the risk was high.

They could only have done it last night, since we examined the net yesterday. Furthermore, this requires determination since the cut must be made with really strong scissors, which you cannot find just anywhere.

In this case, I think a search is required. The one with the scissors could be the guilty one.

Could be, Robert, well said. I am certain that our suspect must have gotten rid of the incriminating proof by now. On the other hand, we are not authorized to do searches. Surely, Lessard could do it and I suggested he should proceed with maximum discretion to dispel suspicions. He must forward the idea of an intruder, most likely from the exterior, of a man coming from the main island of San Nicolas.

We cannot rule out this hypothesis beforehand, Marian. A silent boat coming from the main island could have brought two men capable of doing it.

It’s not impossible, but unlikely. However, shooting is canceled until the breach is fixed. Fortunately, the island has other similar locations, with the same protection, but they need to be thoroughly checked.

If Lessard decides to search for another bay, then it should be watched during the night.

In the short time before sunrise one cannot check the nets completely to avoid another unpleasant surprise.

You have a point there, Robert, and I have already suggested the director if he were to choose another bay or fix the net, he should install powerful spotlights on the beach and dispatch security guards. Lessard promised he would.

Marian had been right.

The director had suspended the filming for one day, calling the intervention crew from San Nicolas again, to fix the net.

In addition to that, he had thought that his men need at least a day to recover from what had happened.

There were actually two days, since Lessard, who never left things to chance, probably needed time to do his research secretly, the way Marian had instructed him.

He wasn’t comfortable knowing it wasn’t out of the question that one of his men plotted, for unknown reasons, to ruin his movie.

The talk Marian had with him on the eve of the second day of rest and third day since we had arrived to the island revealed nothing more. Lessard had found out nothing, although he had lured his men to rehearsals to personally search through their stuff. To the best of his abilities.

In some way, this failure had been expected. The one responsible must have long gotten rid of the incriminating object.

Finally, the filming resumed. And on the same beach as before.

The actors had gotten used to that place and they were assured that everything would be ok.

The shark Pongo had slayed had been brought on land and taken to another part of the island, as to not remind the actors of the danger they had been in.

Derrick Wooten, the one who had not lost his cool and had filmed the entire incident, claimed that the intervention of my two friends, and especially that of Pongo, was worthy of being caught on film, and he was asking for their permission to use it in a documentary.

So something good came out of this and Lessard agreed that the scene could be used. On top of that, he wanted to prove to his employers the danger the actors faced, justifying his and others’ salaries.

Things weren’t that bad for our side either so Marian approved.

Pongo was celebrated as a hero and the ones rescued from the danger they only found out about later, had the decency to come and thank the giant black man personally.

Nothing unusual happened the second day of filming. The scenes were on schedule and gradually, people began forgetting about the incident.

As for us, as we always did after assigning our work, we supervised the natural setting for the shooting. We were careful, to prevent any other regrettable incident from happening.

Marian and Pongo on the water, patrolling in their boat with the engine off to not make interferences, while I was in charge of watching over the coast, with a Winchester rifle, fearing that some sea polyps could have their nest right there. If such a hypothesis were to come true, my intervention could be welcomed.

For this reason, beside the two Parabellum guns I had locked and loaded at my waist, I wore the rifle on my back, the rifle I had so much needed a few days earlier.

It was the dawn of the third day of shooting, but the sky warned us that, almost certainly, the day would not be auspicious for filming. Somewhere in the background, a small black cloud foretold the potential threat of rain. Still, if this were to happen, it would probably be in the afternoon, since those on San Nicolas had warned us about the bad weather around here.

For at least two or three hours nothing weather-relevant would happen and, for now, as far as we were concerned, the day was beautiful and the brightness perfect, so Lessard insisted that things go on according to schedule.

Since before the filming began, almost at the same time as the dawn, a team from the technical crew made all the effort to fix the hole in the net as much as possible. They used underwater welding equipment, with acetylene, and associated diving suits.

But even after the repair, things weren’t quite clear. Nobody knew if one or more of those sea monsters had come in through the breach.

There was just one way to find out. Pongo received from the kitchen staff some huge chunks of bloody meat that were thrown in the bay’s water at different intervals.

Marian and I, armed with our Winchester repeaters, spent almost two hours surveilling the calm surface of the water to detect and completely destroy any predator that, by accident or not, crossed into this bay.

A bunch of smaller fish came in a hurry to feast on the meat, but not the dreaded villain of seas everywhere, who can smell blood from a kilometer and a half away.

This time we could say for sure that the water was free from these killer monsters and swimming in the bay’s water, namely the underwater scenes, would not be endangered by the kind of accidents as before.

But what's perfect in this world? Although the net had been repaired and in the days of rest we checked the waters with the help of bait to avoid any risks, who could say for certain that everything would go on smoothly? In spite of the fact that Lessard did as as he had been instructed, he had installed powerful spotlights that lit „à giorno” the bay’s water, making any nocturnal intrigue impossible, nobody could shake off completely the feeling of danger instilled by the earlier event.

        Despite our efforts, the villain was still unknown, and in one way or another, was still a threat.

Even so, it was not allowed for this potential legitimate threat to stand in the way of Lessard and his shooting crew’s directing plans.

Even today, while we were busying thoroughly searching the bay’s water, the prop and filming equipment were being installed on the beach. As soon as Marian gave the OK, Lessard started his job.

According to the script, another “hot” scene followed.

The same whimsical Sedwick Calhoun, fresh out of the water, met the refreshing and appealing Florence Eckersly Hyde, the teenage daughter of the yacht's owner, Hudson, who was on a pleasure cruise around the island.

As the stud he was, Calhoun couldn't help himself but make a move on the lovely teenager with the body of a southern Venus, who was not immune to the tempting forms of a perfect male as Sedwick Calhoun.

There was a ten-fifteen minute dialogue, but I barely heard anything since I was patrolling outside the shooting area, on the adjacent bay waters. Another bath in the sea together and then a love scene on the heated sand. As far as I knew, this new female presence was a young hope of the American big screen, who's name was Maida Manning, one of the leading three actresses in Lessard's movie.

It’s just that the sand scene had had witnesses. Better said, a witness, namely Melissa la Page, who had been left by Calhoun to sleep in their bungalow on the island.

She stood a while silently, like a statue of despair, watching the outdoor scene of the two circumstantial lovers, then disappeared suddenly behind the bamboo bushed from where she had been snooping.

Not long afterwards, Florence walked away, swinging her hips provocatively, heading to the boat that was probably going to take her to the yacht anchored in a sheltered bay of the island.

As for Calhoun, he resumed his bath, that had been interrupted by the presence of the previous morning temptation.

He was still swimming in the warm and shimmery bay waters, slicing with wide crawl strokes the green-blue, almost static canvas, when Melissa appeared. She was wrapped in a large plush towel tied around her waist, her only piece of clothing being her tiny blue-white bikini, all to well known by any sane male who wandered, more or less randomly, on the beach.

Hello, Mel, Calhoun said as soon as he saw her as a tilt on the horizon. I thought that you're having your usual beauty sleep at this time. Now that you’re here, come join me in the water, for a refreshing round.

Later, Cal. All I want right now is to stay here in the sun and warm up. When I’m “hot” enough there will be cooling down.

But Calhoun would be the one to have a cold shower, after he came out of the water. He hadn’t realized what Melissa’s last words were and now, he had a first shock. While he was walking smiling toward the tempting mermaid, a small black object, with a nacre butt, appeared in her hand, suddenly showing itself from under the plush towel that had fallen on the sand.  Calhoun turned pale:

What… what does this mean, honey?Lifelessly muttered the man’s lips.

Nothing more than you deserve, you despicable traitor! Came the hissed answer from the woman’s lips.

I knew all too well this line and what followed from the script, which Marian and I had read in order to do our jobs as well as possible.

I had done it not as much out of curiosity as to time the water related scenes we were especially supposed to watch over.

But coming back to the scene on the beach, after a first moment of astonishment, Calhoun came to his senses and started pleading for his case.

He wasn’t very convincing, but it was enough to delay the expected and..lethal reaction of the insulted girlfriend.

But Calhoun had used the breathing moment as well as possible.

After imperceptibly moving in on Melissa’s sculptural body, who’s eyes still flashed lightning previous to the thunder that was to come, the man, smeared with all kinds of ointments, chanced a sudden movement meant to immobilize the vengeful goddess’ arm.

There was a close-handed stampede, a kind of “body-check", male-female, with different connotations and consequences than expected in such cases.

A scene like so many others from the wide array of the North-American sets meant to catch on tape the whole range of human feelings. Envy, jealousy, love and hate, the sweet feeling of paid dues and the need for revenge were among the most solicited ingredients of a cinematographic success.

The awaited ending, the suspense of the moment finally happened. A dull blast burst following the stampede between the two, a sign that the small black Beretta, with the nacre butt of a true lady's gun had gone off.

But not how the spirit of justice and the dignity of the insulted being had wanted. A body got loose from the two warring parties’ embrace and fell with a terrible crash on the stirred sand. But this was the body of Melissa la Page, who had gotten shot by the gun which accidentally went off. A stream of bright red blood turned the snow-white towel to red, being absorbed by the hot sand.

The young woman had detached her crossed arms and they were now hanging on both sides of the body, just like the broken wings of a fallen angel.

Even Melissa’s face, directed toward the sun, with her eyes wide open invoking eternity, had frozen in a slightly concealed moment of wonder.

A scene of death and last breath played perfectly in a moment of revelation of a genius who reached full maturity.

The flashes of Derrick Wooton’s camera sparkled like lightning just before the outbreak of a catastrophic hurricane.

After everything that needed to be done was done, Lessard’s strong voice was heard above all:

Motor off, Derrick! All stop, now ! Lessard demanded.

In the meantime, all those drawn by the gunshot had gotten closer, Calhoun had been immobilized on the verge of a nervous breakdown and the one playing the detective had arrived on site. The cameras flashed again, filmed in turn by the camera in a genre suited scenario. This was the second scene and when everything was done, the great Kev himself came to congratulate his protagonists, namely Umberto Scandolo and Lana Bosworth, for the big scene they had filmed.

Lana darling, it was a masterpiece !

Kevin Lessard was not one to voice such flattering words of appreciation, but from the looks of it, this had been the exception from this rule. Lessard seldom used such adjectives, and if he had done it, it meant that he had had a reason. The scene had been done with absolute professionalism and realism, impressing both the novices, which were us, and the professionals of the big screen.

But strangely, Lana Bosworth did not react to the words of her boss and did not raise from the “dead” with a smile on her face, they way everyone hoped she would, running to the water to wash the red paint that had covered her completely. She continued to lie, playing dead, extending the created suspense, like in a game.

Even the grumpy Lessard grinned taking it all in, and Lana’s joke was ongoing, playing dead to everyone’s amusement.

It’s just that this joke was too long. Even after shooting such a great scene, with a genius spark, Lessard did not allow his actors to mess with his nerves.

He had work to do and there were other frames that had to be shot before the workday and the light would be over on the beach.

Because of that, after leaving Lana alone for another minute to enjoy her triumphant scene, he rushed her shortly and formally, as was his habit.

That’s enough Lana, get up from the dead and back into the living world; we have got a lot more to do!

But Lana did not listen even to this mandatory call. She was still playing dead as if the scene had been real and the bullets hadn’t been blank.

When Calhoun – alias Scandolo – removed Lana’s towel to see if the bottle with animal blood that had been hidden underneath it was still intact, all those gathered around Lana’s “body” had a shock. The bottle was intact and rolling down it had been covered by one of the folds of the towel.

But where is the stream of blood coming from?

Moreover, a small burn wound under the left nipple seemed to have unexpectedly reached this region, considering there had been blanks.

The Italian actor’s lips began moving spasmodically, as if a terrible hunch had been implanted by someone in his brain, right then.

Lessard himself rushed and picked up the small Beretta, the lethal object cast away during the fight on a sand mound. He grabbed the gun and without having the patience to dislodge its charger, he aimed the barrel to the sparkling bay water and feverishly pulled the trigger.

The bullets coming out the pipeline, hitting the waves, were a clarifying answer.

Scandalo, Wooton and the other actors or gapers were watching with their eyes popped.

There is no way a gun filled just with blanks would resonate like that. A terrible tragedy must have happened here. But in this case the scene of Melissa’s sudden death, in reality of Lana Bosworth, had to be as authentic as possible.

As authentic as life and death itself!

 

CHAPTER 5. THE SECOND MURDER

 

What followed is hard to describe. After a few moments of general perplexity, of astonishment mixed with horror and disbelief, everyone scattered, leaving a small group of people to take care of the body.

Lana’s body, still warm, was wrapped in a sheet and taken to her bungalow by two people from the staff.

Umberto Scandolo, the Italian that had pulled the trigger causing his co-worker’s death right in front of the cameras’ flahes, seemed transported to another world.

He kept mumbling words in his native language, words I am sure not even the best in Dante’s language couldn’t understand in those moments.

The poor man had suddenly realized that...God knows how, he had become a murderer and had really killed his colleague.

Who knows if the fling that began on the beach between the two didn’t happen in reality as well, in which case Scandolo, besides becoming an unexpected murderer, had also killed his girlfriend. It was too much for a temperamental Italian like him.

Still, how could that had happened? What horrible mistake could have been made, because it had been a mistake, something else didn’t even cross his mind in those moments.

Although most of the terrified curious people had gone away, they wouldn’t stop beating about Kevin Lassiter’s bungalow to hear his explanations.

But he didn’t have anything to exaplain, simply because he himself didn’t understand anything.

He had given instructions to take Lana’s body to one of his bungalow's reserves and locked the door.

Without a doubt, as even we could see, the young actress had died and her body was progressively cooling down.

“Rigor mortis” hadn’t set in yet, but the ugly wound around her heart, the blood and the stiffness of her limbs were conclusive enough evidence.

But it was now clear to everybody that something hadn’t been right with this shooting crew.

Still, could it have been a human mistake? We could have believed it if it weren’t for the incident a few days ago, the cutting of the net and the exposure of the two actors to real danger.

Besides, Lassiter immediately summoned us to a short meeting about the security.

Forgive me, gentlemen, but you have failed in your mission, immediately said the director.

No, Mr. Lessard, let’s get it straight! We are responsible for the dangers coming from outside the group of actors. Inside it we have no authority to act and therefore, we are not responsible.

Besides, I added, this is written in the contract we signed with your lawyer at the suggestion of mister George W. Roderick himself.

Yes, Lassiter sickly admitted. It is possible for such an arrangement to exist. On the other hand, it is very clear to me that this is the work of an intruder on the island, whom you, gentlemen, didn’t spot in time.

This couldn't be proved yet, Mr. Lassiter. We all searched for the last few days and even though we went over the island with a fine toothcomb, we couldn't see any outsiders.

I would rather think our man is hidding in the shooting crew. It can be part of the personnel or of the technical staff, not necessarily an actor.

I cannot deny this alternative hypothesis, gentlemen. This is why I refrained myself from formally charging at you. Still, a new and much more rigorous search of the island is required. Maybe our guy, who changed the guns, didn’t get too far.

First of all, Mr. Lassiter, who had access to the prop? Was there a time when it was left unsupervised? This is what we need to know first. Of course, a new search of the island isn’t out of the question.

But from what the director said,we realized that anybody could have gotten in the prop warehouse to change the guns.

A certain Teddy Moylon, the shotfirer of the shooting crew, was immediately brought to our room. He was the one who had to insure the preparation of the gun which would be loaded with blanks.

The poor man's body was shaking, assuring his boss he had made no mistake.

Think carefully, Teddy! Maybe, while rushing, a real bullet was left in the gun?

Lessard was saying this as if he hadn’t been the one to find that when he had shot toward the sea, none of the bullets were fake or blank, and the ammunition was as real as it gets.

No, Mr. Lessard!  I loaded the Beretta and placed it where it had to be with my own hands.

Then it must have been a second lady gun, same brand. How many pieces from the same brand do you have, Mr. Moylon? my friend Marian asked in turn.

We don’t have any reserves for the same brands of guns, sir, came the answer. But we have other guns of different calibers, he added.

The three of us shared a silent look upon hearing the firm answer of the shotfirer.

This meant one thing. Somebody had knowingly brought a Beretta gun, just like the one used for the murder. This meant that that somebody knew the script. And this was simply premeditated. And Marian didn’t avoid telling it to Lessard’s face, who immediately realized the consequences of the statements of his man, even without my friend’s objective observation.

Even so, what more could he have said?

It had been settled, we were to do another thorough search of the tropical land we had set foot on.

Maybe Lessard, even though he knew it would be useless, did it for psychological reasons. People needed to rest assured and the shooting crew needed to eventually resume work.

Either way, there had been massive investments in logistics and traveling, and if someone fell on duty, wasn’t it the duty of the others to continue the show? „The show must go on”. Moreover, according to the script, Lana Bowsworth’s part had been over even in the scenario with this death. The actors that were to enter the scene from now on were still in one piece.

 

                                         ****

 

Lessard had done everything by the book.

Everybody on the plateau had to participate in the search on the small island’s territory, with everybody spread in a line of “snipers” just like in the army. While Lessard himself lead the attack on dry land, the rest of us from the security team, namely Marian, Pongo and I had the mission to do it on water, sailing with the boats around the coast.

 To avoid the probability of a potential intruder trying to escape on water, it was decided that we were to start from the same place in opposite directions, driving the boats at the same speed to cover equal parts of the coast.

At the same time, in a third motor boat, Pongo was sent to the opposite side of the island, covering a much wider arch, precisely to have a view over a larger part of the coast and to prevent any alleged fugitive to escape. Furthermore, we were provided with the latest optical devices, products of the American specialized industry, even though we had our own, the excellent Zeiss spyglasses.

But the yankees didn’t believe in foreign technology and we didn’t argue in order to not hurt their feelings.

After the tragedy, nobody had their mind on the filming, so this investigative work in which everyone took part could be seen as a cure prescribed by Lessard to calm their nerves by engaging the physical and mental abilities in a useful action.

In this regard, the director’s decision was understandable. Nothing affects more the human mind than waiting and being idle in a potentially high risk crisis.

Undermining the trust would have been equivalent to undermining the morale, and it could have proved decisive in the failure of our whole mission on the island. And in spite of the loss, Lessard couldn’t let himself to be brought down.

As far as he had told us, he had decided that the next day or in maximum two days, Lana’s body would be transported to the main island, San Nicolas, for the routine protocol. The registration of death, the probable autopsy and the inhumation.

All the fuss we were subject to because of Lassiter’s zeal lasted almost four hours, even though we could have completely examined this small hospitable island in maximum two hours. And thoroughly too.

They even searched the tall eucalypts and shot gunshots in the crowning of the robust palm trees to make sure no intruder with a human face hid among the branches.

Except for a few dead birds and a lot of exotic birds flying away terrified, screaming in every existing chirping, they discovered nothing in the miniature tropical forest.

Our marine investigation reached the same result. In the firmly enclosed waters of the bay we found no sign of predators, let alone of human souls, so Marian said, humiliated:

All that’s left now is to scrub the bottom of the sea in diving suits to fully satisfy the whims of this stubborn Irish man.

So you don’t think an outsider could have been responsible for the actress’ death?

Of course not, Robert, and not even Lessard does anymore. What we’re doing now is just a part of a show, although perhaps the director had in mind more its psychological aspect.

That’s what I thought too, especially since they have to resume the filming tomorrow. I just hope it doesn’t have the opposite effect to the one desired.

You need a little bit of intelligence for that, Robert. I don’t think people will fathom the implications of our search’s failure. They’ll be satisfied knowing they’re not threatened by outsiders.

I had my doubts about this. Marian’s presumption regarding the perceptive level of the entire shooting crew wasn’t too flattering for these otherwise talented people.

 Surely, at least some of them would feel more threatened now than before the search.

Using a strong loudspeaker, Lessard gave the signal to stop all investigative operations.

The people were famished and tired and the day was over for any kind of activities useful for the crew.

        We docked our boats on shore and headed to our bungalows. Dinner would be served in at least two hours sincer even the kitchen staff had attended Lessard’s investigation.

There wasn’t long until the sunset and the sky had already turned red foretelling the impending twilight.

Suddenly, an unusual uproar caught our attention, coming from the artists’ bungalows. It seemed that everybody had gone crazy because not just the actors, but also the technical staff couldn’t control themselves at all. It was as if they had turned amuck and everybody was talking at once without waititng for an answer.

We suspected something serious so we advanced to where the prying ones were.

Lessard had just come out of one of the actress’ bungalow, shock-headed and unkempt. He appeared to not be able to calm down and now, almost speechless, with an eloquent gesture he pointed to somewhere inside the improvised home.

Almost in a trance, I made my way thorugh the few grapers that had blocked the alley with my hands and elbows.

Marian, with more initiative, had gone around through the oleander and bouganvilla bushes which framed the path leading to the actresses' bungalow.

What I saw that moment was more horrible than what I had seen in the first part of the day.

A creature to which I had spoken not long before, a charming and stylish young lady, the triumphant very essence of life itself, Antonella Melandri, was lying lifeless on the ground.

From her back, because she was lying on her stomach, you could see the hafts of a small ivory dagger imbedded high under her left shoulder blade.

A small puddle of blood, coagulated by now, had reddened the ground near the bungalow’s doorstep.

 

                                     ***

I was stunned, hardly believing my own eyes. Even more, the first moment I thought it was all but a grim tacky scenario “mise en scene” by the extraordinary actors here. But for what purpose? Not one of Derrick Wooton’s cameras had been filming.

It was too much and too soon after the tragedy this morning.

I barely recovered and it was all the harder to have a coherent conversation with Lessard regarding this last tragedy. Actually, it was Marian who at least tried to do it.

Mr. Lessard, I still don’t get it! Wasn’t miss Melandri a part of the investigation team on the island? How did she get here within the murderer’s grasp? The instructions were clear! Nobody was to stay at the base.

And that is how it was, Mr. Farrow, the director hardly managed to enunciate.

Until two hours ago when Nella complained that her feet hurt and she doesn’t feel too good. It’s the only exception I allowed. If I had known...his last words dying on his lips.

But it makes no sense! We went over the island and the surrounding waters with a fine toothcomb. It can’t be an intruder.

The facts prove different, Mr. Farrow. We didn’t search in some places and poor Nella paid for it with her life.

But who would want the death of such a lovely girl? I put in the concern for the reason.

This is about two beautiful, talented women, with a bright future professionally, Marian corrected me.

Some psycho obviously, who wants to destroy either my cast or the movie I intend to shoot. Oh God, if I could get my hands on him...Lessard recovered at the thought of getting revenge.

Well, precisely from this perspective, I don’t think the mad murderer is an outsider, Mr. Lessard. I think he is here and he is a part of your staff.

We should recheck, step by step, everyone's alibies, starting with the moment you organized the investigation team, Mr. Lessard.

The whole acting and technical staff were divided in three groups and were assigned different areas on the island to search, mentioned Lessard again.

We know that. My team was doing the same thing on water, searching the coast. Therefore you, Mr. Lessard, couldn’t have supervised everybody, just the team you were leading, right?

That’s right, and miss Melandri left my team two hours ago. But of course I checked if anybody from the other two teams had gone back to the bungalows. The answer was negative.

I say we check again. Please summon all the subordinates exactly in the same line-up they started the investigation on the island. We should ask all of them if they noticed the absence of one of them during the four hours, even if only for a while.

What my friend intended to do was the only sensible thing that could be done to find the alleged psychopath who could have committed the two heinous crimes.

Concerning the first tragedy, in regard to the changing of the killer Beretta's charger, there was nothing more that could be done. Practically, any of the actors could have, at one point or another, either swap the gun with one alike with real bullets or replace the charger.

Marian doubted that you could find any revealing fingerprints on the gun’s butt except those of the one who was entitled to handle it, however, as a precaution, the gun had been put in a plastic bag for a possible dactyloscopic investigation.

As for the second murder, which we all agreed was related to the first one, finding a break in the alibi of those who had participated in searching the island, at least gave us the possibility of finding one or more culprits, even if presumptive, where we could start our search from.

It wasn’t easy to convince these shaken up people to reform the searching groups. Lessard and Marian’s energetic interventions made this eventually possible. Just like the latin saying about moral duties “ex malis eligere minima” (of all evil choose the lesser), Lessard managed even without Cicero’s eloquence to convince his men that this was the least they could do for the two fellow actresses "fallen" on duty.  The director that had made three groups had put himself in charge of one of these and for the other two, he had named:  Umberto Scandolo and Roger Penrose.

Both of them guaranteed, being ready to testify, the integrity of their teams during the search and until the return and the finding of the last murder.

Nella’s coagulated blood was proof that the attack on her couldn't have happened with just a few minutes before everybody returned to base.

Even I, with some medical knowledge, could certify that the young woman’s death happened at least an hour, an hour and a half or more before the search ended and everyone came back.

But we weren’t satisfied with just the team leaders’ word. Each and every one of the group members could guarantee for the simultaneous presence of at least a few members. Comparing these testimonies we couldn't find any gaps, to our despair.

That was when Roger Penrose came forward.

Forgive my input, gentlemen. I see you have put in a lot of effort questioning and suspecting each one of us for the death of our beloved Nella. But there is still a team that’s hasn’t been questioned at all and nobody knows what they did. And that is your team, gentlemen! Don’t you agree, Mr. Bertram?

Even though Penrose’s hypocrisy was obvious because his last meeting with the actress hadn’t been on the best of terms, the man had a point.

If for those who had searched on land, there was somebody that could contribute and confirm the others’ alibi, it was different for us. Marian, Pongo and I could only certify for ourselves.

Mr. Penrose, you are right.  Of course, we from the security team aren’t above all suspicions, just like everybody else. It’s just that we can too confirm our comrades’ alibies, all of us together and separately.

In addition, the murders look like the work of a psycho, or of one cunning and motivated enough to commit them both at once. Do you see us in that position?

One can never know, Mr. Farrow! Who knows what mission brought you to the island. Moreover, if I could give credit to the white people, what can I say about that black ape who creeps like a demon in the bushes and comes out where you don't expect it?

I forbid you to talk like that about our friend Pongo! Besides, did you forget who you applauded two days ago, when the shark attacked?

The first murder was committed by proxy and I don’t think you can suspect Pongo to have substituted the gun in Scandolo’s hand.

Are you insane, Penrose? The black guy should have known the script in that case, or how else could he had known what was about to happen on the beach? fired Umberto Scandolo at his fellow actor.

This is absurd, gentlemen. Accusing each other of ill intent will get us nowhere.

I stand by the idea that our misfortune is caused by some psycho who escaped from a mental clinic and who ended on the island, resumed Lassiter.

In this case, Mr. Farrow’s team is still to blame, mercilessly said Penrose. What a joke of a security team if two of our most talented and charming colleagues paid with their lives.

It’s too early to cast such judgements of value in this investigation, gentlemen, intervened again my friend Marian.

Should it be proved that an outsider is responsible for these crimes, we take the blame on us, of course. But where could such a man be hiding?

Don’t forget about the first net incident, Mr. Farrow. The premeditated breach in the safe mesh!  This is proof that somebody from the outside did it, continued Wooton from the technical staff.

It would have been so if the expertise had proved that the net had been cut from outside of the grid, Mr. Wooton. As far as I know, the opposite has been demonstrated.

This doesn’t exclude an intrusion from outside.

Neither does it exclude it nor does it confirm it.

The discussions continued on the same theme but revealed nothing conclusive.

What had become a certainty was the horror that took over the whole crew on the plateau, be it either actors or members of the technical personnel.

Everyone had become suspicious and, from what I could tell, they avoided being alone and isolated.

If the tragic morning incident could still be interpreted, barely, as a mistake, some kind of criminal negligence in checking and handling the fire arms, this time, things had become as clear as water.

A ruthless killer was walking free among us, and was apparently hunting beautiful young women, especially actresses. I don’t know if this made the men there feel a little safer, but I didn’t.

In these circumstances, it was obvious that the shooting would not be resumed the next day, and I’m not sure if this didn’t mean suspension. Temporary or permanent.

Marian was keen on hearing the director’s opinion on this, because he was the only one with the authority to decide on the further development of the events.

I honestly don’t know how to answer this question, Mr. Farrow. Besides, I am not the alpha and omega of the whole cinematic project here on the island.

As a director, I only substitute the producer, Mr. Hymie Stavanger.

Then he should be informed.

Absolutely! Tomorrow at dawn I’m going with a motor boat on the main island, San Nicolas, from where I can call Mr. Stavanger. He will decide everything.

                                                     

CHAPTER 6. THE NEARLY PERFECT SCENARIO

 

  The next morning, Marian took me aside and told me:

Robert, I’m going with Lessard on San Nicolas. I’m giving you to hold the baby, to watch over the entire shooting crew.

The two bodies must be transported to the morgue and the police on the main island announced. Lessard must fulfill the protocolar practices in such cases.

It’s my duty to accompany him and give him a helping hand. I’m a part of the security team.

It’s ok, Marian! Pongo and I will do everything we can. I plan to form a new group only with men to search the island again, while the women stay together.

I don’t think you’ll be very successful, but it’s better to do this than surveilling in a dangerous idleness. Good luck!

Soon after, one of our motor boat carrying Marian, Lessard and two other men from the staff headed to the big island, San Nicolas. Its main harbour, which was now a small town, you could find all the components of civilization. Hospital, morgue, city hall, police station.

        As for me, I did just as I promised. I separted the women from the men, and at their urging I provided them with firearms for protection. I advised them to never remain alone. Not even when they had to go to the bathroom. My advise for them was to walk around in pairs.

I had the feeling that this had a positive impact in boosting up their morale. The moral revival of the first camp also transferred on the men, who resumed the investigations with more confidence and grimness.

The same rule applied here:

Do not separate for whatever reason, gentlemen! By doing it, you are uselessly exposing yourselves. From two points of view, you become either victims or suspects, both which you should avoid.

Fortunately, I was completely understood and there were no protests. Pongo, leading one team, searched the southern part of the island, while I searched the northern part, including the coast.

We took with us cold food making use of an itinerant kitchen, because we had no intention to interrupt our work for even one second while we still had daylight.

The results were negative again, just as Marian had said. Except for keeping people’s mind and spirits busy, nothing relevant happened during the investigation.

Late in the evening, the motor boat returned. The four men that had left in the morning had come back, without the bodies of the two women, that had been taken to the morgue, of course.

However, among our men there was another man, a fifth character, chubby bald middle-aged man, who introduced himself as inspector Hookstatter, Lance Hookstatter, the representative of the police on San Nicolas.

He, together with Lessard and Marian, got immediately to work.

He examined again the prop of the shooting crew, its arsenal and, understandably, he went through the gauntlet of questioning the main witnesses, more or less involved in the two tragic events.

He, Hookstatter, was mainly aware of the succession of the two murders, for he had had a clarifying conversation with Lessard and Marian as head of the security team at the police station.

His hard work continued until close to midnight. He seemed a worthy successor of the famous Hercule Poirot, to whom he kind of resembled, except for the moustache and probably, the quality of those “little grey cells" often mentioned by Agatha Christie’s hero.

The people, fed up with the long interrogations that overlapped with the avatars of a hard tense day, a day spent unsuccessfully trying to find the criminal on the island, could barely control their temper.

Verbal altercations broke out, and they were hard to quiet even by Lessard’s authoritarian and dominating personality.

Even the female staff was exposed. Late, towards midnight, when we got the permission to go to bed, we were all on the borderline of a riot.

But not everybody was allowed to leave yet. Inspector Hookstatter, Lessard, Marian and I debated for another two hours the dilemma with which we were confronted.

                                              ***

The next day started the same. Fortunately, since there hadn’t been any filming set, we could sleep until nine o’clock.

This was an important exception of the morning person Lessard was. He was aware that some sleep and peace would mentally restore some of his subordinates, who had become overly recalcitrant. It would instill in them patience and confidence.

The inspector, who had taken over the investigation, planned to continue his work and reserved the right to search the island himself, after the ground had been run over by so many feet.

In the evening, a powerful engine roaring rushed us towards the coast.

All our three boats had been docked ashore and this engine noise made us think that maybe somebody hoped to get away this way.

  It would have been like an unofficial confession, the indirect evidence of guilt of the one that was running away and thus, the end of the nightmare.

First, we all looked at each other surprised, to see who is missing.

But it wasn’t meant to be! We didn’t see anyone missing and after uncontrollably running to the coast, the first thing we saw were our boats intact.

It didn't take long before finding out what had happened. A fourth motor boat had come ashore, and two men disembarked. They were older: one was smaller and chubbier and I recognized him as Mr. George W. Roderick, the other one was tall and lean, with thick grey hair, whom we did not recognize.

Together with these two, there were other two relatively young men, with really sun-burnt faces, whom we guessed to be a part of the white community on San Nicolas.

Judging by Lessard tense face I figured that the tall gentleman, with a figure of austerity, was his supreme boss. And my guess was right. This martial character, showing a cool calm despite everything that had happened, introduced himself as Hymie S. Stavanger, the producer of the film production company that had financed this tropical escape. They had come airborne on a personal flight from Los Angeles to San Nicolas, to be informed at the scene of the crime.

***

Stavanger, accompanied by Roderick, listened to the report given by Lessard and inspector Hookstatter.

The latter presented his conclusions:

As far as I could see, gentlemen, the two abominable crimes couldn’t have been committed by anyone except for an intruder on the island.

What are the facts you based your opinion on, inspector?

The breach in the safety net, exposing the two lead actors. That was the first incident. It’s true that the cut seems to have been made from the insider, but this can be a diversion of the killer to remove suspicions.                                       

Is that all? calmly asked Stavanger.

The first murder’s culprit could have been anyone who had access to the props warehouse. At that time, nobody suspected anything and the substitution would have been attainable for a lot of men from the acting or technical staff. But the second murder is crucial for my belief. Everybody had a solid alibi and still, there had been a murder. Something like in “The mystery of the yellow room” by Maurice Leblanc, but in the open.

Mr.Lessard?

I completely support the inspector’s opinion. Our searches must be extended on the island of San Nicolas.

We should check if any mentally ill patient has recently escaped from any mental institution, or maybe the killer is among the fanatics of the two actresses, “disappointed” for whatever reason.

And you, Mr. Farrow, as head of the security team, what do you think?

At first glance, Mr. Stavanger, the facts seem to be in favour of the opinions shared by my previous speakers.

 Why only at first glance, Mr. Farrow? Do you have a second opinion?

I do, Mr. Stavanger. I think Sherlock Holmes, the fictional hero of Conan Doyle’s writings, said in one of them: when you have ruled out everything plausible and natural and there's only one thing left, as impossible and unnatural as it may seem, that is the truth.

Therefore, I strongly state. The murderer is a part of our group, he came with us on the island and, moreover, he is with us right now.

The effect of Marian’s words is indescribable. As was natural, there was a lively uproar among all those present on the small plateau where Derrick Wooton had installed his huge spotlight.

The statement that the killer was among us, even though we had relentlessly searched for him for days, appeared to them as not only unconventional, but also revolting and shocking.

Do you realize what are you saying, Mr. Farrow? lashed out Lessard at my friend. As you have also established, we were all on the island when Miss Melandri was killed. Unless if you, Mr. Bertram, or your black guy, committed the murder.

True, regarding your team we only have your word, since you removed yourselves from our sight.

At your suggestion and approval, Mr. Lessard. But calm down! The attack on Miss Melandri wasn’t committed by any of your men, let alone by mine!

You’re not making any sense, Mr. Farrow, finally said our older acquaintance, Mr. Roderick. That way, you agree with your opponents’, Hookstatter’s and Lessard’s, opinion.

And that’s exactly how it was!

Like this, the hypothesis of an outside culprit prevailed.

I was getting confused, since such elementary logical mistakes were not inherent of Marian. I was all the more surprised by the amazing answer on my friend’s lips:

Not necessarily, Mr. Roderick.

Give me some credit and you’ll all understand. Let’s assume that parallel with the fictional movie planned by Mr. Lessard, a criminal, sneaky and evil mind came with a parallel plan.  This time, as real as it gets and with specific reasons. This conspiracy genius, whom we can call Mr. “X” for now, wanted to implant the idea of a psycho murderer from the outside from the start .

What does he do? He puts on a diving suit and cuts the wire net as to suggest the idea of sabotage.

It was only the preliminary plan. He knew that our team would find the cut and fix it the next day, so that nothing unexpected could happen. But something did happen, or was about to.

The danger was removed, and the shark that had threatened the lives of the actors Scandolo and Bosworth was slain by our brave friend Pongo. You were all witnesses and rewarded him with applause.

We know all that, Mr. Farrow, we want to hear the rest, resounded some eager voices.

First of all, who killed Nella if none of those present did? said the feisty Roger Penrose, everybody’s spokesman .

Lana Bosworth! came calmly, simply and naturally Marian's stupefying answer.

Man, are you in your right mind? How could have the dead woman killed someone? several annoyed exclamations rang around.

Dead? No, not at all. It’s just that Miss Bosworth wasn’t at all dead from the very start, like everybody thought.

She died later, and not by her fault, but because of the evil Mr. “X", who directed his own script. I would say one that fit perfectly the movie you were shooting, "Murder: Hollywood style".

As for Lana Bosworth, I confess she played the role of her life, extremely believable since we all thought her dead.

Things happened like this: Lana wanted to get rid of Nella Melandri, in whom she saw a threat, both professionally and maybe sentimentally.

Mr. “X” was aware of Lana’s aspirations, but he had his own agenda. He formed an alliance, organizing everything.

Firstly, the Beretta gun with which Mr. Scandolo shot, was loaded with blanks, and not with real bullets as were lead to believe, according to the script.

Lana’s wound had been planted there beforehand and carefully hidden with the towel.

The same actress had swallowed, about ten minutes before, a potion prepared beforehand according to a recipe, probably South-American. I wouldn’t be surprised if it contained belladona, which slows down the heartbeat and installs a rigidity which resembles “rigor mortis” very well, as least to the uninitiated, as it happened hastily on the beach.  Lana Bosworth recovered and was able to commit the murder. She had been promised that once her “body” was transported on the island of San Nicolas, it would disappear, probably replaced with one of another victim, or, more likely, a water accident would be framed for it to disappear. At least that’s what I think Lana was told. But the murderer had no such intentions, he had a different scenario planned for Lana.

This way, he would have cleverly gotten away, using them against each other, the two women that seriously inconvenienced his plans for the future.

But who could have done all those things? And especially, for what reason, rhetorically asked our chubby employer, Mr. George W. Roderick.

Who do you say it was, Mr. Roderick?

The one who had the opportunity, in the moments of astonishment, to quickly replace the Beretta gun with one alike, but charged with real bullets. The one who exclusively had the key to where the “dead” one, alias Lana Bosworth, was kept. The one who had the initiative to create an alibi for everyone, including himself, and who had acknowledged the idea of an intruder in our camp from the start!

Marian hadn’t even finished his sentence when all the eyes suddenly and blatantly turned toward Lessard, since he fit perfectly the description Marian gave of Mr. “X”.

Mr. Lessard? uncontrollably bursted Umberto Scandolo. You bastard, hissed the enraged actor, you made me think I killed Lana!

But Marian signaled Pongo, who immediately tempered the feisty Italian.

But even the director jumped, answering outraged to my friend’s accusations, although he had kept his cool until his name was pronounced, at least for appearances:

You are mad, Farrow, only a mind like yours could come up with something like that. What reason would I have to undermine my own work? And what evidence do you have?

Well, one piece of evidence is right here, and to our surprise, Marian pointed to a Beretta gun, just like the one that had been used by Scandolo.

Only this one is charged with blanks and I found it in the bay waters. Naturally, the fingerprints were erased and it doesn’t lead straight to you. Anyway, I had the latent idea, and now I got my confirmation. But it wasn’t enough.

When we transported Lana’s body on the island, I noticed two kinds of blood, one seemed to come from the vein and the other was arterial.

A lot could be said about the consistency also. I am sure Lana used her own blood when she prepared the set up, or the autopsy could have revealed everything.

I remember that after Nella’s murder, a heard a pop from inside the bungalow, like the cork of a champagne bottle; actors often drink this beverage.  You probably used a damper then and killed Lana. And, immediately after Lana’s apparent "killing", you took the Beretta and went to the shore, where you shot the surface of the water. But you used the second gun, which you had ready, carefully hidding the first one and getting rid of it later.

And why, why all this? asked the confused Mr. Roderick. What reason would Mr. Lessard, the great Kev Lessard have?

Here’s what I think. Mr. Lessard had a connection with the two actresses and he wanted to get rid of it. He probably had commitments he couldn’t honour anymore.

At the same time, the conflict between the two had escalated, and if made public, it would have irreparably compromised him. Besides, who knows, he may have had another romantic adventure in mind, and another boost to give to another career. Monetary reasons are not out of the question.

I can answer that question, surprisingly intervened the producer, Stavanger.

Lessard was secretly married to Miss Melandri, but not to harm her career, the marriage was known only to close friends.

Moreover, there had recently been concluded a life insurance on the actress’ name, whose beneficiary was automatically, the husband. On the other hand, Lessard was momentarily short on money, since he had been recently involved in some businesses that went bankrupt.

Quad erat demonstrandum ! I suspect that Lana Bosworth was also pressuring him into marrying her, that’s why she wanted to remove her rival.

I wouldn't be surprised if Lessard had also made such moves on another young and promising actress, Miss Maida Manning here. Maybe Miss Maida will tell us.

To our surprise, the girl acknowledged that by nodding her head, shamefully. Despite appearances and his cool character, Lessard proved himself to be quite a Casanova. And a murderer as well!

Although the director continued to deny it for a long time, confronted with the evidence, he finally admitted.

And it could all have turned out perfectly if you, George, hadn’t hired these dogs, he turned toward the honorable and chubby Mr. George W. Roderick, enraged.

  But, Kev, he “justified” himself, playing the jester, we thought you wanted to direct the movie “Murder: Hollywood style” for us and for the great American public, and not for your own good.

After the tragic and sorrowful moments we had lived on the tropical island, Mr. Roderick was rewarded with the first big burst into laughter.


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PeterGontran
Novel / Novella
Thriller
writing PeterGontran
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Synopsis
− Of course you can easily refuse gentlemen, shall you consider your mission unpleasing, but just think about it! Why is it such a big deal to spend three weeks on a tropical island, with all Western comfort provided at the whole team's standard, obviously, in the company of charming people and beautiful high-life women?
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