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Bullet From Nowhere

By Robert Leslie Bellem

The cameras are set, the scene has already been rehearsed; "Shoot!" the director says.... What happens is stark tragedy—not of the movie, play-acting variety, but like a chapter out of the deeper drama of life itself.

THE SCENE wouldn't have got by the Hays office. Audiences in the U.S.A. aren't supposed to know what a woman's undraped body looks like.

But this happened to be a Spanish version for the South American film houses. It was the final take in a production dealing with the career of Mata Hari, the famous woman spy. The scene was to depict her death before a firing- squad; and my friend Billy Blackwood, the director, had invited me over to the studio to see it made.

"You'll get a boot out of it, Turner," he had grinned at me. "Lola Martinez, who plays Mata Hari, displays her epidermis in no uncertain terms. And Lola's epidermis is worth looking at."

So there I was on Sound Stage "A" on the Altamount lot. The set represented a shell-scarred courtyard somewhere in France. There was a crumbling, bullet-pocked wall in the foreground. Billy Blackwood sat on a folding chair in front of me. Two big, hooded, sound-proof cameras flanked him on his left. Lee Riley, the red-haired cameraman, fiddled with his lenses as he stood at his station between the cameras. An assistant adjusted twin microphones overhead.

Blackwood said: "Okay. Final rehearsal. Let's go!"

THE lights dimmed down. It was supposed to be a night scene. Out into camera-range marched a squad of six extras uniformed as French poilus. Then, accompanied by a uniformed officer and a priest, Lola Martinez stumbled forward.

Despite the all-engulfing folds of a somber black cloak I could see that she was damned attractive. Her dark hair streamed backward over her shoulders and her puss was pale, agonized in the dim light. She stepped before that bullet- pocked wall. The priest mumbled a few words, retired to the side-lines. The officer raised his sword—

Lola Martinez, with a dramatic gesture, threw off her black cloak. I gasped. Her ivory thighs and rounded hips seemed sculptured out of living marble. The officer dropped his sword. The poilus of the firing-squad pulled the triggers of their rifles. Hammers clicked down on empty-firing chambers. Lola Martinez swayed. Her hand went to her breast, crushed a thin glass capsule of red stain over her heart. Slowly she sagged to the ground, with crimson streaming down over her bosom.

"Swell!" Blackwood said. "We'll shoot it just like that."

Lola arose, covered her charms with the black cloak. She strolled over to the side of the sound-stage, where a brunette maid washed away that crimson stain. I watched the operation; wondered if I might get a job as Lola's maid. If there were many chances to work on her the way the maid was doing, I'd like it better than being a Hollywood private dick!

The extras of the firing-squad were handed blank cartridges. They loaded their rifles. The Martinez wren was given a new glass capsule full of red stain.

Billy Blackwood said: "All ready! Okay. Quiet, everybody—this is a picture!"

The cameras started whirring. I watched the whole scene reenacted before my eyes. Lola stood before the bullet- scarred wall. She threw off her black cloak. Once more I drew a sharp breath of admiration at her perfect beauty. The officer dropped his sword. A sharp volley rang out from the rifles of the firing-squad.

Lola's hand went to her breast. She staggered. Crimson welled over her heart. She slumped down in a crumpled heap.

I noticed something. That red glass capsule was still in Lola's hand— unbroken! I leaped to my feet. I said: "What the hell—!"

Billy Blackwood turned and stared at me. I plunged past him. I went to my knees beside Lola Martinez' lovely, unclad form. I stared. Crimson trickled over white, rounded contours. But it wasn't red stain. It was blood!

Lola had been shot through the heart, right before my very gl...

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