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DEAD MAN TALKS TOO MUCH
DEAD MAN IN A DRESSING ROOM
The heat of a too perfect sun in a too cloudless sky was tempered by a too subtle breeze filtering up from the too blue Pacific—and it all gave Circus Ed Haley too much of a pain in the neck. He had had a hard night, anyway.
The inter-office buzzer on the desk “Z-zzz-ed” softly. Circus Ed swiveled around in his chair, pressed a button and picked up the receiver. Through the square face of the box came the voice of Joseph Garston, General Manager of Amalgamated Pictures. It sounded more hysterical than usual.
“Ed, come on in here, right away! ’S important!”
“It always is,” said Haley resignedly. “All right, Joe. In a minute.”
He sighed, took the pencil from behind his ear, stuck it in his vest pocket and walked to the door. Then he turned back and seated himself once more behind his desk. He pressed a button with one hand as he opened the bottom drawer with the other. His secretary appeared in, the doorway.
“Hold up those letters to the exhibitors until I get back, Miss Ransome,” Haley said.
Ruth Ransome nodded. She was tall, dark and disapproving. Circus Ed Haley extracted a bottle of excellent Scotch from the improvised cellarette which was a relic of pre-repeal days, placed two glasses on the desk before him and beamed. His face resembled a Kewpie’s, with extraordinarily white and uneven teeth.
“Have one?” he suggested, pouring his own.
Miss Ransome looked as if she had just kissed a thistle.
“No thank you!” she said. It was a daily routine— one, in fact, which occurred many times a day, but she had never become used to it. Her employer’s grin became even broader. He said:
“Well, here’s Belladonna in your beautiful eyes!” and drained the glass. He was replacing glasses and bottle when Miss Ransome spoke again:
“You ought not to do that, Mr. Haley! And this early in the morning, too! It’s—it’s awfully bad for you.”
Circus Ed Haley looked up in surprise. This was not daily routine. He shut the drawer, locked it and got up.
“My dear Miss Ransome! I am indeed touched by your solicitude. But a little speeder or two in the morning is just what every well-dressed drunk should wear. How do you suppose I gained my present eminence as the best press agent in Hollywood?” He waved a manicured hand at the desk drawer. “Inspiration, my dear Miss Ransome, inspiration!”
Ruth Ransome studied him with what she thought was distinct distaste.
“You’re drinking yourself to death!” she insisted grimly. Mr. Haley ignored this.
“How,” he declaimed, “did I ever put over that Skyway Robbery story—you remember, that shipment of gold from a branch bank here to the mint in Frisco, which was so strangely hi-jacked 10,000 feet up! It was days before the papers found out one of our own stunt men did the parachute jump with his pockets full of twenty dollar gold pieces!”
Miss Ransome did not look impressed. Circus Ed Haley continued:
“That, my dear Miss Ransome, put over “Air Devils” as one of the big pictures of the year. And I got the brilliant idea out of a very superior San Francisco drink called Pisco Punch.”
His secretary snorted.
“Of course, it’s none of my business,” she said. “But I suppose you saw the reference to you in Franchel’s column the other day. He called you the Dizzy Dipso of Amalgamated, even if he did give you credit for the best ideas and the best copy in Hollywood. Do you like that sort of recognition?”
Circus Ed Haley laughed.
“I like any kind of recognition,” he admitted. “It was a fine, glowing tribute, though I do take some slight umbrage at the word dizzy! Tell the staff to hit it up on the press-book material for ‘Pretty Boy Bosco,’ Miss Ransome. I want to ship it to the New York office not later than tomorrow night.”
He gave her a friendly pat on an angular shoulder and swung out of the room. Miss Ransome looked after him indignantly, shook her head and went into the larger room which comprised the publicity department proper.
Circus Ed Haley walked down the corridor, up one flight of stairs, turned to the right and entered the outer office of the general manager. He grinned at a red-haired office boy in a sky-blue uniform with brass buttons, tapped two private secretaries lightly on the head, nudged a studio cop in the ribs and entered the inner room without knocking.
A powerful looking, blue-jawed man with a slight paunch was pacing the floor with quick, nervous strides which were soundless in the deep pile of the gray rug. The chairs and couches were upholstered in bright red leather. The walls were paneled in soft gray gumwood, and the surface of the big mahogany desk seemed the same color and texture as its owner’s hair. A collection of small bronzes was grouped about the edges of the desk—busts of Chaplin, Pickford, Garbo, Hepburn, Gable, Crawford and other Hollywood stars.
As Haley entered Joseph Garston stopped pacing and fell, rather than sat, into the armchair behind the desk. Haley allowed another chair to receive him.
“All right, what’s the bad news?” he asked patiently.
“It’s Maronne Martinez! She’s gettin’ the studio in bad!” explained Mr. Garston.
Haley said, “Yeah! I know that! I saw her last picture, too!”
Joe Garston glared.
“Stop gaggin’!” he ordered, “This is serious!”
“So are her pictures!” Haley said. “Why don’t you get rid of that chromo, Joe? She’s all washed up!”
Garston said, “You’re nuts! Never mind that now. She’s down at Agua Caliente drunk an’ gamblin’ an’ raisin’ hell, and we gotta get her out of there. The Agua manager just called me up.”
“Agua Caliente means ‘hot water’ in Spanish, Joe, in case you didn’t know. That’s appropriate enough—she’s always in it! You’d think the dunked child would dread hot water, wouldn’t you?”
Joe Garston looked at his publicity director in a bewildered manner. He said:
“Well, we gotta get her back here and sobered up!”
“That tramp Durline with her?” Haley inquired.
Joe Garston’s ’phone rang. The general manager shook his head as he reached for the instrument. He said, “I dunno. Wait!”
Circus Ed sat back in his chair while Garston alternately listened and growled into the telephone. Well, if there was anything in it for Donald Durline to be in Agua with Maronne, he’d be there, all right! He was just a fungus growing on stars and ex-stars, mostly women. And for all that, he hadn’t got anywhere!
Garston said “Nuts! All right, we’ll make it best we can, but it’s no good!” and hung up.
“New York’s bought another musical, just because it ran a few weeks on Broadway,” he growled. “What were you saying?”
Haley said, “I asked if Durline was with Maronne.”
Garston shrugged. “She didn’t say. I talked with Maronne on the ’phone myself, but the connection was bad and she sounded cockeyed, and I couldn’t hear very well. I told her to get back here, but she wound up saying for me to come and get her.”
Haley said, “Good idea, Joe! What am I supposed to do—have a band and the Mayor down to meet you when you get back?”
Garston leaned across the desk. “You gotta go get her!”
Haley drew in a long breath and his mouth set.
“Say, what am I around this joint, director of alcoholics or publicity?”
“You’re fitted for both!” Garston said. “At least, you make an ace director for drunks! You understand ’em. You oughta!”
Haley’s face was deadpan. He said:
“Then maybe I better resign here at the studio and open a cure. As a matter of fact I’ve been wanting to quit this racket for years. Consider this my official resignation, Joe. I’ll send you a memo on it when I get back to my office—and don’t forget the two weeks’ salary!”
He got up from his chair and started for the door.
“Hold on! Wait a minute!” Garston said excitedly. “I was only ribbin’ you, Ed. You can’t walk out on me that way! You got a contract! Besides, I need your help!”
Haley smiled in his stomach, but none of the smile showed in his face. He resumed his seat.
“Well—” he said. “If you put it that way. But I’ve got something else to do beside field souses. There’s our exhibitors’ convention next month, four big pictures in production—which means four big press-books—and that special campaign to try and put over the Dottie Dimple contest winner. Say, if Dottie Dimple’s got anything on the ball, I’m Dizzy Dean! I saw her taking a test yesterday morning, and—”
“All right, all right!” admitted Garston. “I know you’re busy, Ed. But you gotta do this for me. Can’t let the whole studio in on it, an’ besides you’re the only one who can handle Martinez. She’ll come back for you!”
Circus Ed Haley squinched up the left hand corner of his mouth. He said:
“For me—and with me! That’s just dandy! I can think of no more delightful companion than ‘Moron’ Martinez, particularly if plastered. Do I take a plane?”
“Sure,” agreed Garston. “And get her back here soon as you can, won’t you, Ed?”
Haley surveyed him with scorn.
“No!” he said. “I’ll take her out on a three months’ personal appearance tour, just so’s I can be with her! S’long, Joe!”
He grumbled to himself as he returned to his own office. Miss Ransome was straightening the papers on his desk. He unlocked the bottom drawer and produced the Scotch, with two glasses. His smile was guileless.
“Have a short snort?” he inquired.
Miss Ransome shook her head emphatically. Circus Ed looked disappointed and poured himself a generous drink. He said:
“What? A teetotaler? And in my employ! Tch, Tch, Tch! There’s something wrong here—something distinctly stercoraceous in the state of Denmark! Just listen to that language, Miss Ransome—stercoraceous! And they say Shakespeare had such a large vocabulary! Do you happen to be from Denmark, Miss Ransome? No connection, of course!”
Ruth Ransome’s wide gray eyes—really fine eyes, Ed had noticed—seemed to smile, but her mouth—a rather nice mouth, her employer had often remarked—was set.
“You’re killing yourself!” she said severely.
“Superior to hanging!” Haley grinned. “Here’s a mud pack on your beautiful face!”
He drained the glass and set it down.
“I’m going out of town,” he explained. “A hurried trip—probably be back some time this afternoon, if anybody calls. Got to get Maronne Martinez. She’s cockeyed again.”
“See!” his secretary said. “And who’ll come after you?”
“I see,” Haley said. “And I always get around. Say, I want you to do something for me. Any time soon. Take a new bottle of Scotch from my desk and leave it in Maronne’s bungalow. I want to be able to tell her there’s some of the best waiting for her return—and you know that press agents and the Father of his Country cannot tell a lie!”
Dismay looked from Ruth Ransome’s eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but Circus Ed beat her to it.
“All right!” he said sadly, waving his hand. “I thought you were loyal! I thought you could take it. But I see it’s too much to expect you to do what I ask! And just because I drink a little! Of all the bigoted, narrow-minded people, commend me to a tee—”
“I’ll do it if you insist!” Ruth said coldly. “But you know I don’t like the idea!”
Haley’s voice dripped disillusionment.
“Far be it from me to insist! I’ll do it myself! Take care of the office and keep the staff going on those press-books. See they don’t all duck out for the beach the minute I leave!”
He picked up his hat, took a bottle from the desk and stalked out with a very good imitation of a man who has been bitten on his feeding hand. Outside the door he grinned, straightened his tie, and walked jauntily down the street toward the automobile gate where his car was parked. Before he reached the gate he turned right, down a cement path in front of a line of dressing room bungalows. The names of Amalgamated stars were on the doors. The last bungalow, larger than the rest, was marked “Maronne Martinez.”
Haley stopped, took a key from his pocket, unlocked the door and stepped inside. Then he shut the door hastily, letting the spring lock catch.
The figure of a man lay on its side near the wall, half under an elaborate make-up table containing two rows of lotions, cold creams, grease paint, perfumes and other cosmetics. Several bottles and jars lay on the floor, as if shaken there by the impact of a falling body.
The head was twisted to one side, half under the shoulder, in a grisly attitude. Circus Ed Haley recognized the face of Donald Durline.
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