Jessica Hyatt pulled into the driveway of her apartment and turned off the car. She looked up in the rearview mirror and cursed. The car that followed her all the way across town now sat halfway down the block of her street. It had to be Parker or one of his Pinkerton lackeys, reminding her once again who was in charge. She sighed and closed her eyes. She was exhausted from all the games and the lies, wearing one face with with Penny and a different one with Parker, neither one of them her real self. Escape seemed so far, but yet so close. She could leave right now, drive out of the city and not stop until she got to Canada. It would be the easiest thing in the world. She could---
The sound of the man's voice made her jump back. She snapped her eyes open and was surprised at the sight. A tall negro in a suit stood above the car, looking down at her with a curious expression. She saw a badge in his hand but didn't look at it closely.
"Leave me the fuck alone," Jessica yelled. "Tell Parker I'll give him the names, but it'll take time, okay!"
The negro man took a step back, his brow furrowing in confusion. It was then that Jessica noticed his badge was larger than the one the Pinkertons had. This one with the words LOS ANGELES POLICE written underneath the city seal.
"Detective Thomas," he said. "LAPD. When you said Parker, you mean the Pinkerton agent?"
"How do you know him?"
"How do you know him?" the man asked with raised eyebrow.
Jessica could kick herself. But, Thomas had showed up suddenly and she snapped without thinking. The best course was to keep her mouth shut.
"I don't think I should say."
"Ms. Weiss--" he started to say before Jessica cut him off.
"I'm not her. Actually, I don't even know her."
Jessica reached into her purse and passed over her driver's license to Thomas as proof. He looked it over before looking back at her.
"No?" A soft smile crept on to the detective's face as he passed the license back. "Well, Miss Hyatt, whose house was that you came out of? Some random stranger you don't know? By my count, you were there most of the night. Still want to lie to me?"
"Look," she said flatly. "I know my rights. Charge me or leave me alone. Those are the rights of the people. I know that may be hard for a -- what's the word -- Uncle Tom like you to understand."
The smile on Thomas' face disappeared and he started to clench his jaw in anger.
"Am I being charged with something?" Now it was Jessica's turn to smile.
"How about being part of a criminal conspiracy?" He asked just above a whisper. "A conspiracy to commit murder."
"Your friend, Weiss. At the very least she is complicit in the murder of two people, one of them a pretty little white girl who has been all over the news. Know what I'm talking about?"
Jess thought back to the dresser in Penny's bedroom. The photos of Claire Beauchamp. There was no way she could be capable of something like that. It was murder. But then again... what Penny proposed to Jessica. It was as dangerous and illegal as it was crazy. But worth killing over?
"They're not murderers. They're..." she started to say. Suddenly, she looked around. "Look, we need to go somewhere else. It's not safe to talk here. They could be listening."
Thomas looked apprehensive. He looked around before looking back down at Jess. His skeptical look evaporated as he saw the look on her face.
"C'mon," he said with a nod. "We can talk in my car. I'll drive us someplace safe."
Four horses galloped across the sand of the studio back lot, Raymond Hollister riding the lead horse while three stunt men followed behind him. All four were dressed in black hats, coats, and pants. The standard attire for western bad guys. Hollister looked halfway decent riding, at least from where Elliot was watching. Maybe through the camera he looked every bit the imposing bandit leader he was supposed to be. That was the magic of movies, after all.
Elliot stood well behind the camera and crew as Hollister filmed his scene. That day the back lot was made up to resemble a western expanse, the perfect place for the final showdown between the evil Rudy Cleef and the enigmatic gunslinger Joe. All-American Van Hopper played the part. From what Elliot saw of the dailies, the picture was shaping up to be quite good. Both Hopper and Hollister were playing against type in the picture. Hollister traded in being the lead in another romantic comedy, while Hopper turned away from his boy-next-door image to play the taciturn gunfighter who becomes a reluctant hero. Not bad for a Roy Abercrombie picture.
Abercrombie sat just behind the camera, wearing his trademark sunglasses and sucking on his pipe. The story went that he lost part of his eyesight during the war. Nobody else knew anything else because they were always too afraid to ask. Elliot pulled out a fresh cigarette and walked across the sand towards him.
"We'll pick back up on the gunfight," said Abercrombie. "Close-ups."
"Roy," Elliot said once he was close enough.
He saw the scowl on the director's face. For a man who directed middle of the road cowboy pictures, Abercrombie thought a lot of himself. He was an artist and had little patience for studio people like Elliot, a fact he never tried to hide.
"What do you want, money man?"
"I need five minutes with Raymond."
Abercrombie puffed on his pipe for a few seconds before finally turning away from Elliot.
"Hollister! The corporate stooge wants a word with you. Be brief, please. We are already behind schedule."
Elliot rolled his eyes and walked away while Raymond climbed off the horse and walked bow-legged towards him. He remained silent as they walked away from the rest of the crew.
"How's it going, Ray?" Elliot asked once they were far enough away. "Enjoying the picture?"
"Sure am," he replied. "Elliot... what's this about?"
Without a word, Elliot passed him a folded up piece of paper. He saw the look on Raymond's face as he saw the contact sheet with names listed on it. Elliot took a drag off his cigarette and expelled smoke from his nose.
"Want to explain that to me, Ray?"
"Why are two of the names listed on that list dead? Murdered by person or persons unknown. Want to explain that."
Hollister started to regain his composure. He was a world class actor after all. "Look... this is not what it looks like."
"Tell me what it looks like," said Elliot. "Because to me, it looks like a list of people, two of those people had radical and subversive literature in their house. And the rest of them have ties to a politically charged movie the studio tried to squash."
Hollister let out a sigh. "That movie... that goddamned movie."
Elliot leaned forward. "Tell me about it, Ray. The movie, the group, the murders. What the hell is going on?"
"Gimme a cigarette." He took the smoke from Elliot with shaky hands. He had to help him put fire to the tip. He seemed to calm down as he blew smoke from his mouth. "It... got out of hand, Elliot. Things weren't supposed to be this complicated."
They both turned at the sound of Abercrombie. He stood twenty feet away, his hands on his hips and an agitated look on his face.
"Any reason why you're delaying my picture."
Raymond turned back to Elliot, his eyebrows raised.
"Go," said Elliot. "We'll talk after the scene. I gotta talk to Abercrombie, too."
Hollister nodded and flicked the cigarette away. He trudged back across the sand to the waiting camera and crew. Elliot drew closer and watched them set up while . In the shot, Hollister would pull his gun and fire off two quick blanks while a stuntman with his back to the camera did the same. Hollister would act like he'd been hit and fall, the climax of the film as the outlaw Cleef's death would come at the hands of the hero Joe.
"Ready," Abercrombine shouted from his chair. "And... action!"
Hollister squinted before pulling his gun as fast as he could. As fast as he was, the stuntman was faster. They both opened fire at the same time, the stuntman firing twice while Hollister only shot once before he jerked his body back and flopped to the ground.
"Cut! That was too over the top, Hollister. Let's do it again."
Elliot felt dread rising up in his chest at the sight of Hollister on the ground. He began to see fake blood pooling on the sand below his body and knew something was wrong. It was against the censorship code to show any kind of blood on film.
"Ray," Abercrombie said, standing up. "Ray... get up."
Cursing, Elliot ran across the sand towards Hollister. He turned him over, revealing two neat bulletholes in his chest that were rapidly bleeding out. The crew behind him screamed, the stuntman dropping the gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks. Raymond looked up at Elliot, blooding dribbling out the corner of his mouth. He started to say something before he coughed blood, his eyes glazing over as he died.