Tuesday was a typical London day, which is to say, gray and wet. Fairchild Fortesque chose to walk the three blocks from The Victoria Hotel to the Bull Horn Pub, and by the time he stepped into the darkness, wished to hell he’d worn his raincoat. “Who knew a drizzle would turn into a deluge?” he asked the doorman.
“Only the British,” was the dry reply.
Fairchild admired laconic staff people. The concierge at Beverley Hills Hilton was so chatty it drove him nuts. “Is Mason Burgess here yet?”
“Yes, sir, he arrived at three.”
“Christ, and on my tab and it’s after five,” Fairchild mumbled, checked his hat, and headed to the bar, wet wool sport coat notwithstanding. The bartender nodded and pointed to the red velvet-covered chairs in front of the fire place where Mason sat, both hands wrapped around a brandy snifter, eyes closed, and settled in a like an old lady, complete with shawl and a footstool.
“Late and dripping. Not the way to impress a potential business partner,” he said when Fairchild sat in the chair across his. He’d opted for scotch to warm him.
“Now I know why Englishmen are so pale. Too much time indoors watching clocks and daydreaming.”
“And Californians are predictably tanned and ill-mannered. What’s so appealing about laying naked in the sun all day?”
“To see other people naked. It’s against the law to be ugly in Hollywood. What do you have for me, Mason?”
A pair of blue eyes glared at him. “Why do Americans treat strangers so familiarly? My name is Mr. Burgess, and what I have for you is the biggest story since Pearl Harbor.”
“You slept through the war and Hiroshima, I take it?” Adding ‘you pompous ass’ was unnecessary.
“I know a man who’s passing government secrets to the Soviets.”
Fairchild took a deep disappointed breath. “It’s 1956. Cold War spy stories are a dime a dozen. I’ve got a miserable script to prove it, and Guy Burgess is sipping vodka in a small village on the Volga if he hasn’t drunk himself to death.”
“I’m not talking about my distant relative. I’m talking about John Solomon. Do you know him?”
“Never heard of him.”
“You will, if you ever get around to talking to your mistress.”
“Which one?” Burgess had to mean Pauline. Cherie was a one-night stand he saw once a month for a blow job, and Beatrice was now an ex-wife too busy with their three kids to play spy games.
“The one who’s cheating on you with Gil Adams, the stunt-man in that pathetic B-list film you’re directing.”
“Guess you won’t be buying a ticket. How do you know this, anyway?”
“Talk to her, and get back to me.” He handed Fairchild a card embossed with his name and phone number. “I want fifty-grand. U.S. dollars.”
“I want lunch at the Brown Derby and an Oscar. So what?”
Burgess went to the door, put on his raincoat and hat, and left, leaving Fairchild stewing in a pot of confusion. Fifty-grand for what? He already had the man’s name and the key to finding him.
Do I really care if Pauline is cheating, Fairchild asked himself as he drove to the Heatherton Studio’s back lot? After three years, she was more like a colleague than a girlfriend. If he wanted to dump her, boredom alone was reason enough. The truth was, he’d never finish the turkey-script MGM dumped on him without her. Was it a comedy or genuine noir? Kiss me Deadly was supposed to be the great noir swan-song. Could his Rendezvous at Midnight compete with Aldrich⸺or Wells’ Touch of Evil?
He found Pauline wrapped up in a mink blanket inside his studio trailer watching rushes projected on a sheet tacked to the wall. “Was your meeting worth a day’s shoot?” She certainly didn’t greet him like a girlfriend.
“It was a worth a soak in a hot tub at the hotel. How come it’s always cold in here? Christ this country’s a miserable place. I know why the Nazis never invaded. Scared to death they might win it. I’m calling MGM tomorrow and asking for a new location.”
He lit the camper stove to heat water for tea ⸺the only thing he liked about British habits.
“Why not New York? I need new clothes, Fairchild.”
“Why not Vegas, Baby?” She spent half her time naked anyway. Burgess would appreciate that argument.
“There are more spies in New York than Vegas.”
“How do you know?”
Sure, he saw the legacy of the war’s devastation in London. Men who were heroes a decade ago were now just unemployed idlers. “The perfect place to show why someone would sell out their country,” Producer Shlomo Gottinger insisted. “Maybe Marxism could do something to help. Maybe not. God only knows. We’re film-makers not politicians. We’ll all die if they use the bombs.” Shlomo had the same problem as his script. Too many clichés.
“Are there cookies left, Lina?” Pauline wasn’t a long name, just a sterile one.
“In the tin, Fairchild, and they’re called biscuits over here.”
Why didn’t she shorten his name? He deserved a term of endearment. But, what would she called him? Fairy? Child? If he was a spy, he’d need a code-name. What was Lina’s? She didn’t look or act like a Communist. She didn’t care about anything except money. She laughed a lot and she was beautiful. Commies would probably hate her.
He took his tea to the sofa, stripped down to his underwear, and crawled under the mink. “Let me join you, my dear,” he said in his best Clark Gable imitation. Reluctantly, she made room for him.
“Chuck Ludlow’s really good, you know. Great eyes. Hypnotic.”
“And our prima dona, Miss Susan Anderson?”
“You shouldn’t let Shlomo talk you into nepotism. She’s about as Anderson as unleavened bread and only half as interesting.”
It was Lina’s version of kindness. “She stinks?”
“Like excrement in a bar mitzvah punch-bowl.”
“Damn it! I suppose I could get someone to lip-sync her lines in the close ups and salvage the long shots.”
She kissed his shoulder. “This isn’t Broadway. She doesn’t have an understudy, and she has a contact drawn up by Shlomo’s cousin.”
“I’ve got a headache.” He nestled next to a plump bosom. “The studio will have my ass if I don’t finish on time and within budget.”
She turned off the projector and he felt her hand exploring his shorts. “I’ll have more than your ass if you’re lucky, Fairchild.”
“You’re taking charge?”
“You’re damn right. I got the world in these hands,” she said as she fondled his balls, “you just relax and let me take away that headache.”
His headache was gone, but the mystery remained. Had Mason Burgess told him the truth about pretty Pauline of the perfect pussy and professional opinions about actors? He called Hollywood as she slept. One issue at a time, he told himself.
“I’ve checked with the studio’s legal eagles, and I’m told we have to pay Anderson, but we don’t have to let her act. Funny how things work out.”
She dried off from a lukewarm shower and considered her ensemble de jour. “You’re the director, so direct her to take acting lessons while you finish the picture. Sounds reasonable. Have you looked outside? I think I saw the sun fighting its way out of the clouds. What time is it?”
“Eight. Catering sent over coffee and scones. I’m cutting costs so the stunt-men are going home.”
Lina put the finishing touches on her lips with a sable brush. “Are you sending me home too?”
He could see her looking at him as he looked into her mirror. “Not a chance, my love. You’re better than aspirin. With luck, we’ll finish the outdoor scenes today.”
“How will you handle the loss of the leading lady? She can’t just disappear.”
He rubbed her shoulders. “I suppose I’ll have to kill her off. Maybe she’ll have a dreadful accident. Be present in memory only, like Laura. I could replace her with you. You’re a great actress.”
“The camera hates me and you know it,” she said dryly.
That truth had destroyed her career. It might destroy their relationship. They locked eyes. “Tell me about John Solomon.”
She threw down her lip brush and moved her mirror to the back of the bathroom vanity. “It seems both of us have been betrayed. Burgess did mention Gil Adams, didn’t he, the bastard?”
“So that’s how he found me. Oh well, he was a lousy stunt-man.”
“Burgess wants fifty grand for a story he thinks I don’t want told. Suppose you tell me a story that’s worth that kind of hush money.”
She removed her silk blouse before lighting up a Chesterfield. She had to be careful of her wardrobe now that she might lose her cash cow. “I’m sort of the ex-Mrs. Solomon. John wanted nothing to do with Palestine, given his expensive tastes and my youthful Christian charms. He was recruited by MI-6 because he could speak Russian, German, and Italian, and he was invisible. An extra in the movie of life.”
Fairchild joined her on the sofa with a beer and an ashtray. “Where was he during the war?”
“Gestapo headquarters for all I know. Polyglots are in big demand by all sides when there’s a war.”
“And you thought it would be a good idea to marry a Nazi?”
“He was never a Nazi. He was communist pretending to be a Nazi, and then pretending to be in love with me so I’d get his butt out of Europe.”
So far, her story was worth about a nickel, but it was still better than the one he was filming. “Where’d you meet the eely Mr. Solomon?”
“Where else but Paris? It was the only pretty city left thanks to the foresight of the French. Or their cowardice, depending on how you see it.”
How he saw it, John Solomon was infinitely sexier and desirable than a thirty-five-year old film director from Bakersfield who’d spent the war making training films about using condoms. He actually put one on a wooden dick. Nuts included.
“I was nineteen and wanted to do more for the refugees than write a check. My dad got me a job with the Red Cross. Fucking at least one refugee was obligatory. Marrying one was heroic. John wanted to emigrate to the states. MI-6 snapped him up when there was a problem with his passport.”
“What kind of problem?”
“It was a forgery. A good one, though it didn’t fool the British government and John was going to be deported until Mason Burgess got involved. He convinced the government it was a duplicate.”
“Mason’s a commie, then?”
“No, Mason’s a homosexual like Guy, and John was handsome, horny, and willing.”
Alright, the story was worth a dollar now. His guilt for not marrying Lina was assuaged; it was almost doing her a favor by not marrying her. She’d been duped, poor woman, and needed to heal. Hell, she was probably still married. “Did you divorce him? he asked just to make sure.
“Well, no. Not that I wouldn’t if I could serve him papers. Fairchild, I swear, I don’t know where he is for certain.”
“I understand,” he said as comfortingly as he could. His blood pressure was returning to normal. “Solomon isn’t the jealous type, is he?” Maybe Burgess wanted the money to keep Lina’s whereabouts secret.
She went to the kitchenette counter where the scones were piled high on a blue plate, inspecting and prodding them suspiciously. “I don’t know what he’s like. I know he killed our landlord and at least two other men in Budapest. These things look like rocks. You want some of this coffee?”
“No. I want you to tell me what you just told me is bullshit. How do you know he killed those people? Did you see him?” His heart was racing again. She was too damn calm.
“I don’t bullshit. Of course, I saw him do it. We rented a house in the country. John drove into London every day and I grew a nice garden until Mr. Corkeran raised a row about my digging up a bunch of dead rose bushes to plant string beans. We offered to pay him, but he threatened to evict us. John hit him with a shovel and split his head open. It was gruesome but final, so we buried him and drove into London for the night. The police questioned us. Mrs. Corkeran was upset for a few days, but her Mister was a nut and generally despised so it blew over. She blamed it on the war. Said he deserted her like he deserted Montgomery in North Africa.”
She came back to the sofa with a plate and scone in one hand, and a cup of black goo in the other.
“And the guys in Budapest?”
“That’s where Mason Burgess comes in again. The Soviets sent him and John to bring someone out of the cold. When they got back, John said things went badly, and they had to kill or be killed to get out, and bring back something that would satisfy MI-6.”
Fairchild scrambled for his script. “Get me pen, for God’s sake!”
She wrangled one from her purse on the counter and threw it to him. “What?”
“I’ve got an idea about what to do with Anderson. We’ll make her a dame like you. Good-hearted and dumped by a no-account. We’ll have heart-throb Chuck Ludlow go to Budapest and meet somebody else.” Had he spoken the truth? Lina’s eyes were teared up. “John met someone else in Budapest, too, didn’t he? Who was she? Did you ever see her or meet her?”
“Her name is Julia Soljanek. His handler told me. The bitch.”
Fairchild stopped writing. “You’ve got something they want. What is it, information? Or fifty-grand of a pot of gold?”
“He chose her over me. He chose Communism over me. I hate all of them. End of story.”
“My ass. Where are they now? Burgess has to know.” Had she heard the question?
She was sitting on the sofa, hugging her knees against her chest, her wayward curls falling over her shoulders. White silk blouses called for white bras, and he could see her flesh beneath the lace. He ached for her. She wasn’t an innocent child anymore, but when she was deep in thought she wound her body small and round like a potato bug, like it was her against the world. “You can trust me, Lina. I’m not turning you in, and I’m not letting Burgess or Solomon turn you in either. Beatrice is squeezing me dry over child support, but I’ll get the money from somewhere. You’ll see.” Would she buy it?
“The last I heard John and Julia were in Washington. He was working for the Department of Defense.” She unwound and found her hairbrush hiding between the cushions. Things were always showing up unexpectedly. “Burgess will take the money and ask for more, believe me. He’s done it before. I should have let John kill him.”
He took the hairbrush and sat behind her, gently pulling it through her stubborn tresses. “You lost me. John wanted to kill Burgess?”
“Julia needed an identity. She took mine. Giselle Miroux. With genuine documentation. My birth certificate. My driver’s license, marriage license, and high-school diploma. Nobody asked any questions. John and Julia became two new U.S. citizens. I got a new identity from Burgess: Pauline Farmer.”
“And, if they go down, you go down with them. I have to admit, it’s brilliant.”
“Burgess is convinced the Soviets paid me to let Julia become me. It’s bullshit. The Soviets rely on true believers, not cash. I was a true believer alright. I believed they would kill me if I didn’t go along and then disappear. I just wanted out.” She turned to him with pleading eyes. “I was young and stupid, and then young and terrified. I wanted a life, not a cause. Can you understand that, Fairchild?”
Many pretty girls came to Hollywood and changed their names. Men too. Charles Ludlow would never have gotten a lead role as Tim Lebowitz. Yes, he understood actors. Inveterate prevaricators who got paid to lie. “I’m sending you home with the others. You let me take care of Burgess. Once you’re back in America, he can blab all he wants, but he’ll only implicate himself. Don’t forget that. And I don’t think he’s going to do that once you’re out of reach of the long arm of British law.”
She got a tissue from vanity and wiped her eyes. “That’s true. Let him squawk. The U.S. government knows me as Pauline Farmer, personal assistant to the greatest film director in the world.”
The line almost convinced him she believed it. “If I was directing you, I’d have you play a love scene before you fly off into the sunset. As it is, you need to make reservations for everyone on this list.” He handed her twelve alphabetized names written on the back of an envelope. “They fly coach, except for you. You fly first class.”
“Seize the daylight. The sooner you get this picture in the can, the sooner you get back to sun and surf. Just so you know, I never fucked Gil Adams. He couldn’t get it up.”
Inspector Henderson came Friday morning and graciously waited for Fairchild to call lunch and lead him to the studio trailer before he took out pad and pen and pumped out questions. “Where were you Wednesday afternoon?”
“Seizing daylight. After that, me and Roy Best watched the rushes and did some preliminary editing. Worked past two in the morning. Why?”
Henderson was the first British cop Fairchild had ever seen smoking on duty. He hauled out a Havana and chewed that sucker like a New Jersey cabby. “We fished an unexplained corpse out of the Themes. A gentleman you were seen with at the Bull Horn Pub Tuesday evening. Mr. Mason Burgess.”
“Please, sit down. I had an appointment with him, yes. At three, but I came after five. The doorman will vouch for that. I was the soggy guy with no raincoat.”
“No umbrella?” He chose to sit at the kitchenette counter on a barstool too small for his rear end.
“I don’t own an umbrella. I’m from California.” He gave Henderson the calling card Burgess had given him.
“What was the nature of your appointment? Casting a new movie, are you?”
“We talked about a story he was pitching. I told him I’m a director, not a producer, and that he should get an agent for his script. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring a script with him, so I didn’t get to read a word of it. He’s quite a drinker. Maybe he got drunk and drowned.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“What, that he drowned? You just told me you found him in the river. I didn’t even know he was dead.” Fairchild wanted a belt himself, but put on the tea kettle instead.
“No, who told you that he was quite a drinker.” Henderson was watching him. Probably for signs of nervousness.
“He waited two hours on my tab and it cost me twenty pounds. Let me be precise. He was also quite a leech.”
“Or a connoisseur. Well, he didn’t drown. He was murdered with a sharp instrument before he was thrown into the river. If he could swim, he didn’t have the wind after a minute and a half. Where were you Thursday?”
“I started shooting a bunch of retakes at dawn ‘cause of a script change. Our leading lady was recast as an unemployed actress, and I had to reformulate the story. You want a cup of tea?”
“Got anything stronger?”
Fairchild opened a bottle of gin and poured them a glass. “I didn’t think cops were supposed to drink on duty.”
“It’s lunchtime. You called four taxis to the back lot.”
“I knew I’d be over-budget if I didn’t cut my personnel, so I sent a dozen people back to the states. Roy rode with them to the airport, and I stayed with the crew to rehearse the changes. What kind of sharp instrument?”
“One long enough and big enough to pierce a rib, puncture a lung and the heart. At least ten inches. Does that information call anything to mind?”
“Letter opener. Arrow. Ice pick. Bayonet. We’re making a spy picture, but there’s flashbacks of our hero during the war so we have a few of those in wardrobe. Are any of my people suspects?”
“Not presently. But one might be a victim. We found another unexplained corpse in a car outside the airport, and that gentleman’s name is Gilbert Adams.
“Gil’s dead? Oh, my God.” He sank onto the stool next to Henderson.
“Did you know him well?”
“Not at all. He was just an ordinary guy. Invisible. An extra.” To hell with the glass, Fairchild took a swig from the bottle. “How did he die?”
“A small caliber bullet to the heart. Close range. He was in possession of a bayonet when we found him. It was the oddest thing. The sheath attached to his waistband, but the bayonet was sticking straight up between his legs like an erect penis. Does that information suggest anything to you?”
“His killer had a whacky sense of humor?”
“You say he was a stunt-man. What kinds of stunts? Those that required agility and strength, or timing and courage?”
“The kind that required stamina. He chased bad guys. Jumped over obstacles and from rooftop to rooftop.”
“Then he must have been distracted. By a woman, perhaps. Or restrained. Don’t you agree?”
Fairchild nodded. There were so many times Pauline could have killed him. When he was in the throes of physical pleasure, he was aware of nothing else. “Inspector, I want to cooperate in any way I can, but I have a movie to finish.”
“Of course, but I find when people have conversations, they remember things better. Two heads really are better than one.” He reached into his pockets and withdrew some photographs. “Quickly, before you go, can you tell me if you recognize any of these people?”
“I don’t have time.”
“I think you do, Mr. Fortesque. It’s quicker to do this here and now rather than drive all the way into London.”
“Okay. Okay.” He rifled through the pictures. “No. No. Pauline Farmer. Mason Burgess. No. No.”
“Wait, you say this woman is Pauline Farmer?”
“She’s my assistant.”
Henderson read the back of the photo. “It says here her name is Julia Soljanek. Have you known this Pauline Farmer long?”
“Three years. Don’t tell me she’s dead too.”
“Not that we know of. And these people. Mr. and Mrs. Corkeran. Their bodies were found in Budapest, in a house rented by Ms. Soljanek.”
“I’ve never seen them before.”
“Are you sure you’ve never seen this man?”
Fairchild held the picture of a handsome young man with black hair, green eyes, and an enigmatic smile. He recognized the SS uniform he was wearing and figured it must be Solomon. It was all coming together now. Lina had to kill Burgess and Adams if she was to escape her murderous husband. What didn’t make sense was why she was running away from the Commies if she was one of them.
He let his memory wander back to the day they met. That’s right. The Crab Shack restaurant at the beach in Santa Barbara. She’d watched him from the outdoor patio, and joined him near the water where he was trying to build a sandcastle. “What’s a grown man like you doing playing in the sand?” He’d watched her walk to him, her hips swaying beneath a cotton skirt, the breeze tossing her curls.
Beatrice had been gone two weeks. He was supposed to bring the kids here for lunch, but at the last minute, she called from Madrid and said it was impossible. “I’m rebuilding a dream in the land of opportunity. That’s the great thing about America. You can reinvent yourself. Be whoever and whatever you want to be as long as you don’t expect to be rich and famous. I want to make movies. What do you want?”
She knelt in the sand and look up to the sky like she was praying. “I want to have some fun. I want to forget all the ugliness and dirtiness of the world and just have some fun.”
He could describe John Solomon as many things, but a fun person wasn’t one of them. A guy who wore a hat with a Deathhead’s insignia pinned to it probably never went out at 2 a.m. for doughnuts wearing Woody Woodpecker underwear. He probably didn’t call her Lina or take her suggestions about what to do with the likes of Susan Anderson seriously.
“He sort of looks like Charles Ludlow but with a lot of make-up.”
“His name is John Solomon and he’s a spy searching for Julia to recover the half a million dollars they got from selling a Jewish family’s art collection on the black market, and raiding the wall safe at Nazi headquarters. Does that information suggest anything to you?”
“Son-of-a-bitch. She had me fooled. I thought Pauline was a nice young girl. I don’t believe she’s capable of killing anyone, but if you say she’s a spy…”
“She caught a boat to Cuba in New York accompanied by a man fitting the description of Solomon.”
“They spied for the Nazis, and now they spy for the Communists? Maybe Joe McCarthy was right all along. Well, it makes sense. People do the work they’re good at. Guess it doesn’t matter who your employer is as long as he’s willing to pay you for services rendered, even temporarily. Did he ever work for you guys?”
Henderson was suddenly engrossed with his notes. “I’m not privy to information like that. I’ll let you get back to the work you’re good at. I assume you get paid.”
“Not as much as I’d like. But, just so you know, my relationship with Pauline was strictly professional. I’m trying to patch things up with my wife. I got three kids, you know.”
“If you think of anything else you want to tell me, here’s my card.”
Fairchild mumbled, “Sure. If I think of anything.” The camera hated him too. That truth destroyed his acting career even though he had talent, but, like Lina, acting saved his life more than once.