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Dead Heat

By Robert Leslie Bellem

The cash customers paid plenty out to watch her emote on the screen. They looked upon her as a brunette angel, but there were a lot of substantial citizens in Hollywood who knew Linda for a rat.

I REACHED for the doorknob of Linda LaMarre's dressing room on the Altamount lot. Before I could turn it I heard a gurgling screech from inside, followed by a heavy thud. The thud sounded like somebody falling down and there was the terror of death in that shrill, throttled yeep; a quality that made the short hair prickle at the nape of my neck.

I whispered: "What the hell—!" and yanked the portal open, catapulted over the threshold. Then I froze as I lamped the gorgeous LaMarre cupcake writhing on the floor. Her squirms reminded me of a gaffed eel on a hot rock.

I knew she was a goner the instant I hung the focus on her glazing glims, her bluish- purple mush, her protruding tongue. A guy doesn't have to be a doctor to recognize the symptoms of asphyxia and suffocation; you can pick up those fundamentals from any toxicology book. The quail on the carpet was obviously passing to her reward; and not from natural causes, either. I had a hunch it would turn out to be murder.

Being a private snoop, I don't hold with homicide; I think it's impolite to croak people. But you'll find plenty of substantial citizens here in Hollywood who will argue that Linda LaMarre deserved to be abolished; and maybe they're right. In addition to her status as an Altamount starlet, Linda was a prime species of rat. Very likely in some previous incarnation she'd sported grey fur and a tail.

She was smart, though. She had enough brains not to let her public know how poisonous she really was. The cash patrons who shelled out copious clams at the box office to watch her emote on the screen thought she was a brunette angel; which was a haywire estimate, as many a poor sucker had learned to his regret. If all the homes Linda had wrecked were laid end to end, they'd have resembled Berlin after a blockbuster bombing.

She specialized in badgering married guys, and her latest victim was Henry Kermit, an inoffensive yokel who worked in the studio makeup department. Kermit was a mild looking punk with a wife, two kids, a 4-F card from his draft board and five grand stashed in his savings account. Linda LaMarre was trying to chisel the five G's away from him.

He had visited my office that same noon, begged me to help him out of his jam. "Linda's putting the heat on me and I'm worried crazy, Mr. Turner," he'd said. "I never actually played around with her; I'm a family man, not a wolf. But I accidentally let her lure me into a compromising situation not long ago, and now she threatens to tell my wife unless I fork over every dime I own."

"What can I do about it?" I asked him.

"Scare her. She knows your reputation; everybody does. She'd lay off me if she knew the great Dan Turner was on my side. It's the only plan I can think of, this side of killing her." His optics glittered behind their thick cheaters and his voice cracked harshly.

I liked the naive little jerk; hated to picture him going to gas chamber for croakery. "Don't even entertain such a nutty notion, bub," I'd snapped at him. "Come on, let's ramble to the studio. I'll see what can be done."

And away we went, buckety-blip, on a mission that turned into a homicide beef after all.

I DIDN'T get to interview the LaMarre she- male right away. As soon as we arrived on the lot, Henry Kermit was called to Sound Stage C on his professional duties. I ankled along behind him; wandered to the sidelines of a set where Linda was doing an important scene.

Kermit's boss, Pat Briano, head of the Altamount makeup department, stood behind the camera lines. Pat was a swarthy character with a lot of friends in the movie colony, including me. He and I had been on many a drunken brawl...

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