To start with, I got loaned out.
By the end of the day, I’d found another body.
I don’t know why this keeps happening. Finding bodies, that is. Three times in less than a year. I never look for trouble. I look for work. My name is Lauren Atwill, and I’m a screenwriter. More truthfully, a script doctor, which means I toil largely anonymously. In Hollywood, you don’t talk about whose work you repaired.
I once had a dream marriage. If your dreams are confined to those sold in movie magazines. A young writer swept into Cinderella bliss by a handsome star. None of those magazines later printed that for years, my husband cheated on me so often and broke my heart so badly that I finally threw him out – and a dozen pairs of his shoes into the swimming pool while I was doing it. But for too long, I thought he’d change if I worked less and devoted more time to him. By the time I realized he was perfectly content with the marriage as it was, my career was a shadow.
I’m not asking for sympathy. (Well, maybe a little.) I just want you to understand why, when last week I signed a contract with Marathon – a major studio – for my first screen credit in years, I actually trembled with joy.
Then, this morning, I got loaned out. And to Epic Pictures, which despite its name, is strictly second tier. I don’t have a choice. Studio contracts allow them send you to work at any other studio, and you have to go. But I’m very much afraid there’s something even worse than being sent to Epic. The reason.
My year of catching killers hasn’t made headlines. I’m glad to let the police take the credit. But this town thrives on gossip. What if the super-superstitious head of Marathon heard whispers that when I show up, people die? What if he’s using Epic to test if it’s true? I know that sounds crazy. But Hollywood’s the most superstitious place on earth. And if you get marked as trouble, especially if you’re a woman, you don’t work again.
While I was considering this unpleasant possibility, I got a call inviting me to meet with the head of Epic. Why would the studio head want to see me? Writers are rarely treated as anything more than a necessary annoyance.
Best to take advantage though. I wore my best suit. And three-inch heels to subtlety show off the legs of which I’m justly proud. Small hat, nothing frivolous. Uncluttered envelope handbag, no fumbling for my notebook and pen. A compact of powder, a lipstick, handkerchief. Not my gun. Not today. That’s all I’d need, reach in for my notebook and out pops a gun. Not the cigarette case either. I don’t smoke, but I’ve got in the habit of carrying it. The offer of a cigarette can help prize secrets from the bereaved, bewildered, or begrudged, secrets that can sometimes help find a killer. It’s a trick I learned from Peter. Peter Winslow, the private detective I met the first time I found a body. I’m in love. Not simply, not purely. Just completely. I’ve also learned about evidence, questioning, and his boiling point when I put myself in danger. Or someone else does. He once threw a guy head-first into a file cabinet because the guy put me in danger, and Peter thought the guy should understand not to do that again.
So I drove over to Epic, sure that – even though I was meeting the boss – I’d be handed something low-budget, low-aspiration. What I got was a chance to work with a leading man I’d adored for years. And, even better, to bring a scandalous novel to the screen, a sensational story of betrayal, corruption, and a vicious killing. The kind of book that gets banned in Boston and condemned by decency committees. And would make fortune as a film.
But could I keep the jaded, seamy truth of the book and get the script past the censors? The Motion Picture Production Code office rules Hollywood with an iron hand. The Code’s first tenet is that no movie can be made that would lower the moral standards of anyone who sees it. I’m not kidding. Its first tenet.
I was up for the challenge. I’d remake my career.
Then everything came apart.
Before midnight, I’d discovered a young actress brutally murdered and my leading man stained with her blood.
Before midnight, I’d discovered how far Hollywood and even the police would go to cover up a killing and protect a star.
If don’t go along with their story, I might never work again. You don’t shove a studio into sordid headlines and not pay the price.
If I don’t go along, I might send an innocent man to the gas chamber. Despite the blood, I don’t think he did it. I noticed things at the scene. Things that don’t make sense. Things that might lead to the real killer.
But what if the killer realizes he’s left a trail? What if he knows I’m the only one who might follow it?
What if the killer comes after me?
You can read more about Lauren in No Broken Hearts, the fourth book in the “Lauren Atwill” mystery series, published by Five Star Publishing. The first book in the series is Star Struck Dead. Read or listen to sample chapters of No Broken Hearts at sheilayork.com.
Click HERE to enter the contest that Sheila has on Goodreads, where she is giving away 20 copies of No Broken Hearts. Contest ends October 31, 2014.
Meet the author
After a long career in radio and TV, Sheila began writing novels combining her love of history, mysteries and the movies. While other girls were sneaking their mothers’ lipsticks, Sheila was filching Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald mysteries from her father’s bookcase and hiding them among her stash of Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Dorothy Sayers, Victoria Holt, Thomas Costain, and Mary Stewart. She read nothing on her high school required-reading lists, preferring to continue gorging on mysteries and thrillers, and watching late-night classic films.
Set in post-war Hollywood, her series features screenwriter/reluctant heiress/amateur sleuth Lauren Atwill (and her lover, private detective Peter Winslow) chasing killers in the Great Golden Age of Film.