Chapter One


She looked so lovely, lying there in the white sand, her bronze body gleaming in the sun.

I had just come around the corner of the bath house, and there she was—Mona Harrison, Hollywood’s most glamorous star—naked and gorgeous. The kind of sight you dream about.

The grating of my feet on the sandy cement walk startled her and she looked up. Her green eyes were full of fright for just a second, her shiny red lips half open in surprise.

“Why don’t you learn to knock?” she snapped, grabbing a fuzzy robe and partially covering herself.

“You shouldn’t lie around like that,” I said, sitting down on a stone bench by the pool. “Think how tough it is on our young flyers. It takes their minds off the war.”

Mona covered up a little more. “Why not let ’em see what they’re learning to fight for?”

I laughed and held out my cigarette case. Mona took one, sat up and waited for me to struggle with my lighter.

“What’s on your mind, Joe?” she asked, blowing smoke to one side.

“Not what I started out with,” I answered.

She shot me a meaning glance. “Get your mind out of the gutter. We’re just pals—pals without passes, you know.”

“That’s the trouble. I’d like it the other way.” Mona tossed me a quizzical glance. She buried the half-smoked cigarette in the sand.

“You don’t mean that, Joe. You just think you do. If I ever decided to really go for you—well, it would be the end of your newspaper career, and you love that better than anything else.”

It was my turn to look quizzical.

“Meaning what?” I asked, giving her perfectly proportioned body a steady once-over.

“When I fall for a guy, Joe, I want all of him—all of the time. It won’t be any half-way measures with me. With you—you’re half man, half benzedrine. You’re up and out all hours, chasing down stories, poking your funny snub nose into all sorts of things. No—that’s not for me.”

“It doesn’t take me any second glance to say that I’d willingly give up all of that for you, Mona.”

“Don’t be silly, Joe. You’d last about two weeks around me. I’d drive you crazy—in more ways than one.”

I stepped on my cigarette. “I can’t think of a grander way of going nuts.”

Mona was making figure eights with her right forefinger in the sand. With her other hand she held the robe which had slipped nicely to my advantage.

She stared at me for a second, her oval face greasy with oil. “Some day, Joe, I’ll go for you—in a great big way. But I’ll have to be in a mood.”

“Make it soon, Honey. I can’t hold out much longer.”

Mona threw back her head, her black curls shaking naughtily, and laughed one of those good, old-fashioned haw-haws.

“Imagine!” she screamed, “Joe Medford, the wolf of newspaper row holding out! Joe, sometimes you’re funnier than Bob Hope. Why don’t you get a radio program and worry Jack Benny and Fred Allen?”

I pouted. “All right, laugh. I’m stuck on you—and what does it get me?”

Mona started to answer, but a bell sounded near the diving board at the end of the pool. Mona quickly covered herself, then said, “Turn your back. I want to get into this thing.”

I turned around on the bench and lighted another cigarette.

“Okay,” Mona said, just as Fields, the butler, came around the corner of the wall which surrounded the pool and miniature sandy beach.

Fields was a typical movie butler—striped trousers, black coat and poker face. He didn’t look unlike Eric Blore, who nearly always enacts butlers on the screen.

“There is a call for you, Mr. Medford. I believe it’s your office,” he said.

“Thanks, Fields,” I replied and went in the direction of the bath house, directly in back of the diving board. It was a neat white structure with bright red awnings. Mona had designed this house herself. It had a barbecue pit in the center, a massive bar on the right, done in mirrors and chrome, and heavy divans in material to match the awnings. Dressing rooms for men were on the right and the women’s were on the left. Brightly colored lounges, chairs and sunning mattresses littered the place.

Just as I reached for the phone on the bar, I heard Mona say to Fields: “Mix us a couple of Zombies.”

I picked up the phone and the operator at the paper said: “Joe, the boss wants you.”

I waited a second. Then Emmett Willard, Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Enquirer, got on the phone.

“Listen, Joe,” he said, “Hector Ross, the gown designer Mona had a fight with, has mysteriously disappeared. Now hop on it and see what you can get from your favorite glamour girl.”

“Sure,” I answered. “Phone you back in ten minutes.”

As I hung up, Mona strolled up to the bar and flopped down on one of the divans. Fields had gone behind the bar and was preparing Zombies in massive, tall glasses.

I went over and sat on a coffee table by Mona. “Hector Ross has disappeared,” I said.

“How wonderful! On him it will look good,” Mona snapped.

“Did your fight with him have anything to do with it?”

“I hope so!” Mona flared. “I hope he’s lost for keeps.”

“What was the battle about?”

“Now, Joe, you’re not going to print this?” Mona sat up, growing suddenly serious and very tense. “I don’t like that kind of publicity—and you know it!”

“I’ve got orders, Mona.”

“Well, forget ’em! There wasn’t any real battle—just a lot of nasty words.”

I grinned. “Well, I heard you hauled off and smacked him.”

“That’s a lie!” she shrieked.

Fields brought over the Zombies. I took a long draw through the straws on mine. Mona was stirring hers.

“You can get pretty rough at times, you know.”

“If Hector doesn’t keep his slimy hands off of me, I will sock him some day,” she said between sips.

“Was he fondling the sexy Harrison body?”

“He was trying to, the dirty little degenerate. Every time he has ever fitted me for a gown, he’s always been fumbling around. Well, I did give him a slight push.”

Mona laughed. Her hot temper had subsided.

“Did Hector sort of fall down—when you pushed?”

“I think he tripped,” Mona smiled meaningly. “The last I saw of him, he was lying upside down in a corner, covered with bolts of material.”

I laughed at that. It must have been a funny scene. Hector Ross was Hollywood’s greatest designer of smart clothes, but he was definitely very effem­inate, very precise, in a fluttering sort of way. He had been known to scream like an injured eagle and to stamp his feet like a spoiled child.

I was trying to think of a way to break the news to Mona that her little studio fight and Hector’s dis­appearance would definitely be page one material in our next edition. It was just noon so I had plenty of time to make late afternoon press time.

“Well, Mona,” I began, “I’ve got to do a yarn. I’ll treat it in a humorous vein. Kid it, you know.”

“I won’t like it,” she said.

“Can’t help it, Honey. That’s my racket.”

“Why don’t you go into the garbage business? That’s a nice, clean racket compared to your newspaper stories!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll watch out for you. Remember I’m in love with you.”

“You’ve a great way of showing it,” she said, paying more than ordinary attention to her drink.

“Mind if I use the phone—in the den?”

“No. Go right ahead and make a meanie out of me. Don’t mind my career at all.”

I reached over and, patted her hand.

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt a bit.” With that I hurried to the house. I went in through the French doors which led directly to the sloping lawn. The den was across a large, formal hall and to the left of the main entrance door.

I got Willard on the phone and told him what I had learned about the fight between Mona and Hector at the Silverstein Studio. He switched me over to a re-write man and I started dictating.

Twice during the dictation, I thought I detected the click of another phone being put into use. All the phones at Mona’s place were on the same circuit, except a second one in her bedroom. That was the only private line in the house. I had an idea she was listening in from the phone at the bar.

When I had finished I went back to her in the beach house. She was on the divan, just as I had left her. I watched her. If she had listened in to my story, she gave no indication. Mona was a good actress, so that didn’t really tell me anything.

“Finished so soon?” she asked.

“It wasn’t much,” I answered, sitting on the coffee table again and resuming my drink. “Just a cute little yarn about a typical studio battle. Absolutely bloodless.”

Mona leaned back and gazed at me. “I shall eagerly await the arrival of the evening paper, and if you’ve made me out a hell-cat and a temperamental bitch, I’ll—I’ll clunk you over the head with one of these glasses, Joe, so help me!”

She had started with amazing calm, but had worked herself into a fury before the finish of the sentence. Her green eyes were flashing, and she sounded as if she actually meant every word of it. Obviously then, she hadn’t listened in. That was a help. If she didn’t like the story, she would probably cool off before I saw her again.

I made noises with my straws which indicated I had come to the end of my drink.

In a perfectly easy voice, Mona said: “Want another?”

I shook my head. “Got to get over to the studio and see what I can dig up about Hector.”

“I hope you never find him!” she muttered disgustedly.

I smiled. “Thanks for the refreshments and the use of your phone. I’ll be on my way.”

Mona put her drink down and pursed her lips for me to kiss. I leaned down and kissed her. She parted her lips a trifle and that sent chills up and down my spine.

She knew what she had done to me and suddenly took her lips away and laughed. “Be off,” she said, “before I get in that mood I promised you.”

I couldn’t say anything for a moment. I just looked at her. There was something about Mona that did things to me. I wanted to take her in my arms, crush her, bite her until she yelled. The Zombie and that kiss had made me dizzy.

“You’re a delightful dish,” I said, finally.

“Yeah,” she grinned. “Slightly cracked around the edges.”

I leaned down for another kiss but she pulled away.

“Okay, Toots,” I said, stepping back. “I’ll call you later.”

With that I hurried away.