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Dead Man's Shakedown

By Robert Leslie Bellem

Whatever it was, it had happened thirteen years ago! Whatever it was, only a dead man was supposed to know anything about it! Yet now Sid Waldring was being blackmailed for it. Completely in the dark, Dan offers to help if he can.

I DISLIKE unpunctual punks. That's why I was sore at Sidney Waldring. He'd made a date with me and he was late for it.

Waldring was a runty, lard-faced bozo who owned and operated a minor independent neighborhood movie theater over near LaBrea. He'd phoned me to come see him that evening; said he was in some sort of jam. But when I ankled into his private office above the theater at seven- thirty, he wasn't on deck.

Instead, a luscious young blonde cookie gave me the jittery focus. "Are you Dan Turner, the private d-detective?"

"So my friends seem to think, babe," I said. I glued the admiring glimpse on her. She had a shape you dream about.

She said: "I—I'm Connie Bowen."

"Hi, Toots. Glad to know you."

"I'm Sid's secretary. He had to go downtown, but he's expecting you; wants you to wait." She took a gliding step toward me. "You w-will help him out of this b- blackmail mess, won't you? You wouldn't let anything . . . happen to him?"

For a mere employee she seemed mighty interested in Waldring's personal affairs; seemed to know a lot about them. But then she'd called him by his first name, which indicated a pretty thick association. That's not out of the ordinary, in Hollywood.

I said: "Sure I'll help the guy, if there's a big enough fee in it." I didn't show any surprise at the blackmail angle she mentioned; I'd suspected something like that when Waldring phoned me at my apartment stash. But I wondered what the blonde cutie had in mind when she said she was scared something might happen to him. If he was being blackmailed, then his life couldn't be in danger from that viewpoint. A shakedown artist never bumps the victim he's milking. That would be the same as punching your own mealticket full of counterfeit holes.

I DECIDED to kill time by going downstairs to the theater proper and watching a ghost fling woo. The ghost was Fernando del Cavallero, who's been deceased about twelve years. In his day he had been the biggest pulse-throb in silent pix—a handsome mugg with dreamy glims, flaring nostrils and a smile that made dames go off the deep end. He'd specialized in sheik, gaucho, and matador roles; and he'd been the pet peeve of every commonplace male in America.

This answer to a spinster's prayer had kicked the bucket while on a personal appearance tour of the east a dozen summers ago. He died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously in a jerkwater Alabama hamlet, and they'd shipped his beautiful remainders back to California in a bronze casket that cost ten grand—which was just about all the geetus left in his estate, although he'd coined millions during his career. Thirty-seven silly shemales got trampled in the crush at his funeral; and even now, veiled wrens put posies on his grave almost daily.

Sidney Waldring had recently gambled his slim wad on the negatives of del Cavallero's old pictures for revival showings. The best of the batch, "Desert Destiny," was now flickering across Waldring's silverscreen; so I went down to take a gander, for old times' sake.

It gave you an eerie sensation to watch a defunct guy going through his paces without benefit of sound track. Knowing that he was now a worm-eaten skeleton under six feet of Hollywood soil, there was something spooky about seeing him toss kisses at his leading lady, Myrla Montaine.

Evidently the public felt the same way, because there wasn't much of an audience. Of course, Waldring couldn't afford to buy a lot of newspaper publicity; so that might have accounted for the poor turn-out. Not many people knew the opus was being revived, and apparently nobody cared much. Such is fame. A star today, a maggot tomorrow.

I sat through four spools of the old fashioned junk and then barged out to the lobby for a gasper. When I got there, I had a surprise waiting for me.

Myrla Montaine herself was standing in the foyer, surrounded by five or six autogra...

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