Read 1 The Hollywood Detective Online
Authors: Martha Steinway
After a while I started to feel like I was in a Hall of Mirrors: the corridors seemed to go on forever, endlessly repeating the regimented patterns of doors, trash chutes and fringed light shades. I wondered if maybe Vincent had given me a fake apartment number: it was one way to protect his residents from unwanted callers. But then after another few yards I found 817. The door was ajar.
I thought I heard something from inside the apartment.
“Miss Butterfield, are you there?”
I nudged the door with my shoe, and it swung open about a foot. From my position in the hall I could see a slice of a clean and tidy kitchen, but that was all.
“Miss Butterfield?” I said a little louder.
I stepped over the threshold and pushed the door wide open. I tapped my jacket to make certain the Colt was safely inside its holster. After what happened with the tiger, I didn’t want to drop it again.
“I don’t want to alarm you, Miss Butterfield, just so you know, I’m entering your apartment.” I waited for a response. “If you’re getting dressed, or in the bathroom, just holler.” Again, nothing. “Is there anybody in here?”
Though I couldn’t hear anyone, I got the strange sensation I wasn’t alone. My throat constricted and and my heartbeat quickened. Rather than take any chances—my instincts are usually reliable—I slipped the Colt out of its holster and took a step toward the kitchen. It was only big enough to accommodate one person at a time—residents of the Elysée went out for dinner. The room was immaculate except for the floor: a metal dog bowl was surrounded by biscuits thrown from their nest by a dog more interested in getting to its meat. I scanned the shelves and the narrow counter: nothing looked out of place. Next I stepped softly down the hallway and into the living room. It was brightly lit by two south-facing windows, but it too was empty.
I heard a thud. I swung around and looked back down the hallway: the front door had slammed shut.
Had someone just arrived? There were two rooms left to check; the bathroom and the bedroom. I walked slowly down the hallway. “Miss Butterfield, if you’re in there, I’m real sorry about this but I’m coming in.”
I kicked a door and it flung open to reveal a small shower room. Bottles of pills and perfumes had been pulled out of cupboards and lay scattered across the vanity unit and the floor. I drew in a deep breath and took a few more steps toward the remaining door. I pushed it open. Drawers were pulled out of a dresser under the window and the entire contents of the closet lay strewn across the bed.
There was no sign of Gloria Butterfield.
I stood perfectly still. And listened. The only thing I could hear was the beat of my own heart.
Whoever had made this mess—the person who must have just run out and slammed the door—couldn’t have gotten far. I quickly headed over to the window and looked down at the grounds below. At the rear of the building, the residents didn’t get a nice view of the sculpted gardens, all they got to gaze on was a drab parking lot. The elevator had been so slow on the way up, I figured that if Gloria Butterfield’s uninvited guest hadn’t taken the stairs, they should emerge from the rear exit in about thirty seconds. Sure enough, less than a half minute later a thick-set man appeared in the parking lot and scrambled toward the line of cars. I couldn’t see his face, but I was sure I’d recognize the pale green and maroon Cadillac Roadster he jumped into anywhere. The roar of the engine was like an airplane’s and he left that parking lot so fast I thought his wheels might spin off.
Who the hell was he? And what was he looking for?
I put my gun away and looked around Gloria Butterfield’s bedroom. It had been messed up real good, but I couldn’t know if anything had been taken. An upturned drawer rested on a corner of the bed. Next to it was a pile of jewelry. Carefully, I looked through the tangled mess of gold link chains, silver plated rings and paste gems. There was no pendant in the shape of a lion’s head.
I let myself out and took the stairs back down to the lobby.
“Reckon they must have sold out of the L.A. Times at the local store and she had to walk a long way to find a copy some place else,” I said.
“She not up there?” Vincent seemed surprised.
“I suppose she could have been in the bath—there was no answer.”
“Did you hear her dog barking?”
“If she was in, you’d have heard her dog. The neighbors complained it yapped whenever she left it alone. So now she takes it everywhere she goes.”
“No, there wasn’t a dog.” I slipped my hand into my jacket pocket and pulled out my wallet. I slid the usual five dollars onto Vincent’s desk. “Tell me, what car does Miss Butterfield drive?”
“I think it’s a brand new Hudson. The cream one out back.” He nodded his thanks and put the bill in his jacket pocket.
“Ever seen her in a pale green and maroon convertible?”
He thought about it for a second. “Pale green and maroon? That’s a bit showy, even for this town.”
“I agree. But do me a favor will you?” I slipped him my card. “If you ever see a car like that parked round here, give me a call will you? I’ll make sure your discretion is properly rewarded.”
“I know you will, Mr McCoy.” He patted his chest pocket.
“Mahalo, my friend.”
I stepped back out onto the street and stared at my dusty old Plymouth. I really needed to start parking in less salubrious locations. I decided to walk round to the parking lot out back and check out Gloria Butterfield’s Hudson. It was a long shot, but I didn’t have much of anything else.
I stared at the line of vehicles, but there was no Hudson in the lot, cream or otherwise.
No Gloria. No dog. No car.
Now I had two missing actresses to find.
Considering Red had only been working for me a couple hours, she was doing a fine job. She’d managed to track down Mary Treen to MGM where she was screen testing for a new picture. I had to go to Culver City anyway, so that would save some gas. Red told me if I presented myself at the gate at half past two, the guard on duty would have instructions to let me in. As it wasn’t yet one o’clock, I decided I’d introduce Red to Joe’s and took her for lunch across the street.
I spent some time studying the party guest list, while she read the menu. I picked out the names, who, if they’d actually seen anything, were more likely to spill some information. I was looking for blabbermouths, drunks and the guys with reputations for being ungentlemanly around women.
“What is that?” Red was looking at my meal.
“I say again: what is that?”
“Want to try some?” I offered her my fork.
“I don’t think so.” She sunk her teeth into her burger, having taken the garnish out of the bun.
About two years ago, Joe had employed a guy I only ever knew as Mexican Mike, and ever since he had served a buffet lunch of beans, salsa and sour cream that folks could order alongside their steaks. I was happy to stick with the sides.
“Let me see that.” Red’s words got a little muffled round her food as she reached out for the list. I’d circled the potential witnesses. “Nah, he’s not going to know anything. Nor him. Got a pen?”
I handed her a Parker I’d picked up in the bank and—genuinely—forgotten to give back. She started to circle some more names.
“Trust me, these are the people who will know what was going on.”
She pushed the list back toward me. It seemed a random selection, mostly people I had never even heard of. “Would you like to explain?” I said.
“Well, Jimmy Duggan here is L.B. Mayer’s gofer. Reckon he’ll know most of the people at the party. Adele Jackson, see, she works with Edith Head, you know—the costume lady—so chances are she’ll have gotten close and intimate with the actors who were there. Plus, she’s a real knockout; the guys go crazy for Adele—”
I put my hand down on the list to stop her mid flow. “How do you know all this?”
“Used to work there.” She took another bite of her burger and then wiped the juice off her chin with a napkin.
“Secretary? Hair? Make-up?”
“Oh gosh no, Spencer, I was in front of the camera.”
“Had some lines, too. Damn fine, they told me.”
“I’m sure they did. Should I have seen you in something?”
“I doubt it. You don’t strike me as the Andy Hardy type.”
“You’re right about that.”
So… Red was an actress. Just like everyone else in this town, she had come to Los Angeles for the movies. One way or another, I reckoned I only knew a handful of people who hadn’t come to L.A. for the movie business, and they were my buddies from the beach. If they had to be a dentist or an accountant to earn a living, they figured they might as well do it somewhere they could ride the surf every night.
“So will you be making any more pictures?” I asked her.
“I do hope not. You ever been on a set?” She didn’t give me a chance to reply. “Most boring places on God’s great earth. All that hanging around. Saying the same things fifteen times. Honestly, I could have died.”
“But you stayed in Los Angeles?”
“You know how it is. Pa said he wouldn’t support me if I wanted to be an actress. So I told him I didn’t need his money. So now—”
“Now you gotta support yourself?”
“And of course I don’t have the fare home, so I guess I’m stuck here.” She took another bite. “I guess that means you’re stuck with me.”
“Sure feels that way.”
We finished lunch and I paid the check. Before I left for Culver City, Red told me to make sure a guard she knew named Ed was on the MGM gate, as she’d arranged my visit with him. Mary Treen was expecting me around three o’clock outside the refectory and Ed would give me directions.
When I arrived on set I almost didn’t recognize her. Mary was wearing a bustle and a bonnet and looked like a mortician’s wife who’d just stepped off the Mayflower. She was carrying a baby.
“Your new secretary is awful insistent. Have you found Clara yet?”
“She didn’t say why I wanted to meet?”
“No, nor did she seem the least bit bothered that I can’t be seen with you here,’ she lowered her voice. ‘If anyone knew I’d hired you, I doubt I’d ever work for MGM again.’
I nodded that I understood.
“So you haven’t found her?”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t, not yet.’
‘Then why are you here?”
“Got some leads.”
“Like the picture in the paper?”
“You’ve seen it?”
“Here, hold this.” She passed me the child, who mercifully turned out to be made of rubber and wood. She undid her bonnet which left an indented band around her face making it seem slightly plumper. “I’ve got ten minutes, tops.”
“So the necklace in the picture is yours?” I asked as we stepped out of the afternoon heat and into the noise of the refectory.
“Oh, it’s mine all right.”
“One hundred per cent. Unless that Butterfield woman is a pal of the Duchess of Windsor, then I’m certain it’s mine.”
“Might she be a friend of Clara’s?”
“As far as I know they’ve never even met.”
We joined the end of line. “Any thoughts on how she might have gotten it?” I asked.
She lowered her voice. “Well I’m figuring she stole it from Clara, then killed her and buried her under William Powell’s flowerbeds. You’re the detective, you tell me!”
We ordered two coffees and took a seat near the exit. “I don’t know how she got it, yet, but I’m pretty sure she wishes she’d never laid eyes on it.”
“Why do you say that?” Her tone made me realize she thought I was somehow questioning her taste in jewelry.
“She got burgled this morning.”
“They took my necklace?” There was genuine alarm in her voice.
“Looks like it. I haven’t had a chance to speak to Gloria yet because… well, she seems to have disappeared too.”
Mary’s eyes widened. “Oh my. So you really do think something’s happened to Clara?”
“Can’t say. I still haven’t ruled out the millionaire and his yacht scenario, but I’m almost certain something went down at Powell’s place the night before last.” I decided not to mention the possibility of Clara’s encounter with a hungry tiger. “You heard anything on set today?”
She shook her head.
I reached into my case and brought out the guest list. “I just need you to take a look at this. Is there anyone here that you think Clara will have known, or that she might have spoken to?”
“You mean apart from Benny Bowers?” she said looking at the list.
“I met with him last night. I’m almost sure he didn’t have anything to with Clara after they got there.”
“That figures. Nice big star come along and lead him astray, did she?” The venom of her sarcasm took me by surprise.
“Something like that.”
“Jeez that guy’s a rat. He takes a girl to a party and then dumps her. Pure class.”
Although I hadn’t gotten a verifiable alibi out of Bowers, I was still sure his lack of chivalry didn’t make him a kidnapper, or a murderer or any other kind of criminal.
“There are a few names here I know. This girl—Ethel Montgomery? She and Clara made a picture together last year.” I handed Mary a pencil and she worked her way through the list and underlined a few names. “This guy here, I don’t know who he is, but I’m sure I heard Clara mention his name. Wilfred Tomasky.”
“What is that? Russian?”
“Beats me.” She drained her coffee cup. “You better give me my baby back. I got about two minutes to get on set.”
I handed her the kid. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Should have some news by then.”
She headed for the door of the refectory. “Good luck,” I said after her. She turned. “You know, for the screen test.”
“Thanks. And Mr McCoy?”
“You get my necklace back and I’ll double your fee.”