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Coffin For A Coward

By Robert Leslie Bellem

The clean-living young movie star had emoted his final scene in the audible tintypes. He was now knifed deader than a poached egg, and maybe there'd been more in his life than was suspected by his associates. In any case, Dan Turner, having been in at the kick-off of this murder game, decided he'd throw his weight around until the final whistle!

YOU COULD see the kid was crocked. He listed tipsily at his table; lurched every now and then to keep from toppling out of his chair. I couldn't help watching him and wondering what the hell had caused him to get so plastered in public, particularly when his Titanic Pix starring contract contained a no-drinking clause on penalty of having his option dropped.

This was none of my business, of course, but it seemed screwy for him to come to a cafe like Plyman's to do his elbow-bending. Almost every cinema bigwig in Hollywood dropped into the joint at one time or another during the evening; and I knew it wouldn't take too long for the gossips to spread the news all over town that handsome young Bruce Bonham was on a terrific brannigan.

That kind of rumor, properly authenticated, might well put the kibosh on his career in the galloping snapshots—a career which was just getting under way. Bonham was a comparative newcomer to the screen; had made a smash success in a couple of Grade-B turkeys and was now finishing up a stellar stint in an important Titanic opus that would land him at the top of the heap. The box office customers had already tabbed him as a typical, clean-living American boy with no vices, no bad habits—the kind you'd want your own son to be. And a lot of people were going to be copiously disillusioned to learn he was tilting the bottle. He beckoned a passing waiter; pointed to his empty glass. "Refill," he hiccupped.

"But Mr. Bonham, don't you think you've had—?"

"I said refill!"

The waiter shrugged. "Very good, sir." And he ankled off; came back presently with more giggle juice. Bonham tossed it down his hatch like a guy dying of thirst on the desert— or trying to drown a cargo of grief.

MY OWN TABLE was next to his; and for a while I considered interrupting my solitary supper to speak to him, urge him to powder while he could still navigate. But even as I debated the question with myself, I lost the chance. A jane joined the punk, sat down opposite him and began sounding off in a low, earnest tone.

"Listen to me, Bruce," I heard her start in. Then her voice lowered to a husky undertone I couldn't overhear; but her gestures indicated tension, bitterness. And the longer she talked, the sorer she seemed to get—particularly when he apparently refused to pay any attention to what she was saying.

I recognized the wren. She was Janet Moore, the Bonham kid's co-star in that new Titanic pic; a taffy-haired muffin whose gorgeous exterior concealed a heart as big as a birdseed. You run into plenty of that type around the studios: dames so hungry for movie fame that they've forgotten how to be human. And when it came to selfishness, this Moore quail took the fur-lined trophy. She had the face of an angel, the curves of an houri from paradise, and the disposition of a Borneo cannibal.

That's why I decided to steer clear of young Bonham, now that Janet was with him. I'd had several encounters with her in the past; knew she hated my tripes. And I didn't want to start a scene with her. She might tell me to mind my own damned business and emphasize it by baptizing me with a beaker of bourbon.

The way it happened, though, Bonham was the bozo that got baptized. I saw him shake his head stubbornly at the blonde cutie as if refusing a favor; whereupon she stood up, yodeled: "You dirty slacker, you can't do this to me!" and tossed a brimming jorum of distillery squeezings in his mush.

He gasped, choked, made a lunge across the table at her. "Why, damn your eyes!" he snarled. Then somehow he got his mitt tangled in her taffy tresses before she was able to pull away. He yanked....

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