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She raced past the carnivorous seaweed, leaped over a clump of man-eating yummym, and skirted the boiling-lava beds. She was wearing what appeared to be a negligee the color and thickness of thin fog, which slid up her thighs as she ran, bare legs flashing white in the sunlight. She was moving very speedily, but the giant oysters were still gaining on her. Clack-clack, went the oysters.
Her name was Cherry Dayne, spelled hoo-boy, and she was the kind of gal the people in my dreams dream about — five feet, five inches tall, a hundred and twenty pounds arranged 36-22-36 above those fabulous legs, and a face flaunting incandescent lips and acetylene-blue eyes, topped by beige-blonde hair the approximate shade of boiling honey. Yeah, it sure looked as if those oysters were going to get her. She'd run past the boiling-lava beds and stopped at the cliff's edge. Below the cliff was the horrible Lake of Fire. She was trapped.
Cherry screamed — very prettily.
And upon her the monster oysters advanced, clacking wildly.
Cherry screamed again, half an octave higher.
Clack-clack. "Eeeee." Clack-Clack. "Eeeeeeee." CLACK-CLACKCLACK! "EEEAAAAHHH!" "Cut!"
That "Cut!" was from director Walter Phrye, and just in time, too. In another second lovely Cherry Dayne would have been gobbled up and digested.
Phrye, for those not in the know — or not subscribers to Inside — is the genius who directed The Day the Earth Cracked, not to mention Space Glop, not to mention which is a pretty good idea, both of which had apparently been based on returned comic books. And this was, as you may have guessed, the location where Jeremy Slade's latest "monster movie" was being filmed.
You know monster movies — The Day the Worms Turned, The Horrible Living Urp, and so on. Well, this was Slade's latest, biggest, goofiest epic, Return of the Ghost of the Creeping Goo.
Study that title, will you? If examined with a rapier-like intelligence it will tell you a lot. It will tell you too much. Yes, this was the third in the Goo series, which, perhaps, sums up the twentieth century. Future historians, probing the rubble of ancient Hollywood for our age's counterparts of stone tablets, for the antiquities of our constipated culture, may well find Return of the Ghost of the Creeping Goo and say, "Urp."
Jeremy Slade, like King Kong — who dreamed of Queen Kong — had a dream. He wanted to make a billion dollars. And, obviously, he didn't give a hoot how he made it. He was, so far, just a little more than a billion dollars short of his goal.
Here's what happened. Slade made The Creeping Goo, in which Goo died. On its release to theaters the plot repeated itself like a sour stomach, and Goo also died in the theaters. Nothing daunted, or else absolutely out of his mind, Slade made Ghost of the Creeping Goo, despite expensive delays during its shooting. After lying as if dead for the first two weeks after release, something happened; the picture came alive; it hit a nerve.
People started paying money to see it. Lots of people, and big money. So, in response to popular psychosis — and in a frenzy of greed — Slade had embarked upon this kookie epic. Now, on this splendidly sunshiny Southern California morning, Thursday, the twenty-third of April, Slade was seventeen days into his twenty-one-day shooting schedule, and smack on the budget.
I could hear Phrye saying, "Well, it looked good, we'll print that one. Let's get set up for the rescue bit."
Next to me, tall, handsome, superbly muscled Ed Howell, male star of this crime against humanity, said, "Pretty good, hey, Shell?"
I turned and grinned at him. "Yeah. If you refer to the fleeing tomato. But if you mean eight-foot oysters and monster beetles —"
"Who said anything about beetles?" Ed's grin flashed in his black face.
He was one of the finest actors in Hollywood, or points east for that matter, but this was his first starring role — and better than a bit part somewhere else, at that Wearing only a white loincloth studded with gold sequins, he looked like a Greek god carved from living ebony. He was pretty dark-skinned to begin with, but the make-up department had smeared him with some kind of black gunk that gleamed in the sunlight — because the locale of all three Goo films was Venus. And, as nearly everybody knows by now, of the five Venusian races, the ruling race is really black.
While we'd been standing here together a number of not-quite-startled glances had been aimed our way. Which didn't surprise me, not only because this was my first visit to the Goo location, since I'm not an actor — though I'd often thought hamming it up a little might be fun — but because it sometimes happens even when I'm standing alone.
In the first place, all by myself I'm six feet, two inches tall and weigh two hundred and six pounds; Ed was an inch taller, and together we'd bend the scale at four-twenty. Even though he was a Negro, his skin wasn't a hell of a lot darker than mine, since I get a lot of sun and am tanned the approximate shade of a pale Watusi. But where his hair was abundant, black, full over the ears and at the back of his head, mine is nearly as white as sheets bleached in new improved Bleacho, is cut about an inch long, and sticks straight up into the air as if magnetized and repelled by my scalp.
Even adding white eyebrows over gray eyes, the brows angling up and out from the middle and then swooping down sharply at the ends, the sort of dashingly broken nose, and the hardly noticeable bit trimmed from my left ear by a poorly aimed bullet, and the extremely fine and faint scar over my right eye, there isn't anything really distressing about me. I like to think. But, still, I've had a few of those looks. As if I were some kind of subversive, undermining beauty.
I suppose, though, I might have gawked a bit myself at the sight of Ed and me together. Besides the obvious points of contrast, I had some clothes on. Where Ed merely wore that gold-sequined loincloth, I was resplendent in a new suit, superbly tailored if I do say so myself, in a basic shade of blue which sort of rippled and changed to include tints of gold and maybe a little purple and even green — one of those iridescent fabrics that shimmer chameleon-like in the sunlight. True, the last time I'd worn it a disgruntled mobster had told me I looked like a living fungus; but what would a disgruntled mobster know about jazzy apparel? I liked to think of myself in the suit merely as sort of radiantly glowing.
So, radiantly glowing in the sunlight, I said to Ed, "O.K., except for the oysters, and beetles, and Goo, and the men, it's great. When do you get to rescue Cherry and breathe fire and waggle your muscles and —"
He waggled his muscles. "Soon as they set up. Few minutes now."
"I gather she leaps into the drink, then you plow through the oysters and jump into the flaming glop. And save her, naturally."
"Naturally. I'm very good at the brave stuff. But I do hate the thought of getting burned to death. Hope they get it in one take."
He grinned, and I grinned back at him. We both knew — I'd think by now the whole movie-going world would know — that neither Slade nor Phrye were exactly what you'd call perfectionists. They weren't exactly what you'd call careful. They were lousy. If an actor goofed and referred to Lillian Cerulean as Loolian, they merely added a line to a later scene: "... So I spoke to Lillian — or, as she is sometimes called, Loolian."
However, despite a flaw here and there — and there — and there — Slade's movies had something for everybody; lovelies for the men, handsome Ed Howell and John Brick for the ladies, a cliff-hanger plot for the kids, and monsters for the nuts. And, always, there were very shapely tomatoes, who raced about wearing nightgowns in broad daylight and falling into water. It is perhaps a flaw in my otherwise sterling character, but I greatly enjoy those scenes in movies when shapely tomatoes race about in nightgowns and fall into water.
"Well, I better get over there, Shell," Ed said.
"Are you kidding?" He walked toward the cameras and equipment now set up near the cliff's edge.
In a minute I lit a cigarette and headed that way myself. Might as well get a good look at the heroics. And, of course, the falling into water.
This, in case it needs to be said, was not my usual occupation. My usual occupation is chief of staff, and staff, of Sheldon Scott, Investigations, the office up one flight in the Hamilton Building between Third and Fourth Streets in downtown Los Angeles, on which I pay the rent.
I was, actually, hard at work earning the rent money, and perhaps you can now understand why I love my work. When the job started, I'd had no idea I would be eyeballing monsters and vitamin-packed tomatoes; it had started out like a routine investigation — then suddenly there was blood seeping from a dead man's head, and hard-faced hoods prowling about, and my client was in the can booked on suspicion of murder. Part of that suspicion was mine, because there seemed a good chance my client was, indeed, a murderer most foul. And if he was, he was going to become a headless murderer most foul, because I intended to knock his block off.
In the meantime, I was here on the Goo set for a few words with Natasha Antoinette, the thirty-nine-inch star of the movie — that doesn't mean she was a midget, by the way. However, I'd been forbidden by producer Slade to talk to the gal, and possibly upset her more than she was usually upset on the set, which was quite a lot, until her upcoming scene was completed.
She was pretty high-strung to begin with, but she had more reason to be nervous than most. Negro actors and actresses often had bit parts or good supporting roles in Hollywood films, but rarely if ever did they star in them. At least not in "white" movies. For Natasha, as for Ed Howell, this was her first starring role, and she was understandably anxious about it.
The upcoming scene was referred to hereabouts as the "death dance," and Natasha was supposed to wiggle sinuously for hairy John Brick, who was playing the part of Gruzakk, a kind of latter-day Venusian Genghis Khan. He was the leader of a band of white bandits who had captured the black Queen of Venus, Natasha, and who were going to wreak all sorts of vengeance upon her. If Natasha's dance annoyed Gruzakk, she got her head chopped off; if it pleased him, she got raped. It was a moot question which was the worse fate, but, I thought, it should be fun to watch. Especially if she pleased Gruzakk.
The area chosen by Slade for his "Venusian" landscape was two hundred acres or so of a farm a few miles north of Hollywood owned by a retired movie actress named Madelyn Willow, and it was possible it looked a good deal like Venus, since nobody — nobody of my acquaintance anyway — had ever seen Venus up close. At least there was a fine cliff below which had been constructed the artificial lake, on which oil could be poured and ignited to make quite a lot of fire and dark smoke bubble up from the water's surface; also there were a few hills about, or rather mounds of earth, up and down which the various outsized creepies could gallop in hot pursuit of the black, white, brown, yellow, and green — in descending pecking order — female Venusians. Naturally, with all those pretty skins, plus fire and smoke and monsters, the film was being shot in Lividcolor.
If Slade's production company had operated with the care and precision of most other outfits, it would have been tomorrow before I could have talked to Natasha, if then. First the rescue of Cherry had to be filmed, and ordinarily half a dozen takes of the rescue scene might have been shot before the crew moved on to Natasha's death dance. But not with Slade and Phrye in control.
When two cameras had been moved in near the cliff's edge and another below close to the lake, final readings taken by the camera operators on their light meters, last touches completed by make-up men and dressers, a mike boom poised to catch Cherry's last scream, and the assistant director hoarse from yelling, "Quiet!", Phrye called, "All right, let's shoot it Roll ... action!" — and it was all over two minutes later.
Cherry spun and leaped from the cliff, choosing to be burned to death rather than digested alive, and began splashing about. From nowhere appeared big Ed Howell, brandishing an enormous aluminum sword. Hack, slash, crunch, and three oysters lay clacking their last. Ed dived from the cliff, cut the water cleanly, and swam toward Cherry, pushing the water ahead of him with a modified breast stroke to keep the flames away. It isn't too difficult to swim in water covered with flaming oil, but it's not a pastime for the faint hearted. Nothing went wrong, however, and in another minute Ed had reached the shore and was carrying Cherry's limp form toward a patch of green under a prop-department tree with leaves like opened umbrellas. As he placed her on the grass, Phrye allowed as to how that one looked good, and they'd print it. One take. Next, Natasha's dance.
I found a Fiberglas rock and sat on it. In a few minutes Ed and Cherry strolled up from the lake below, wet and somewhat bedraggled, but without blisters. Ed waved and went on toward Phrye, but Cherry walked over and stopped by me and my rock.
I stood up. I'd talked to Cherry for a few minutes earlier this morning, and now she said, "I see you're still here, Shell."
"I told you I wouldn't miss your big scene."
"How was I?"
"Magnificent. Then, and now."
It was true, without any exaggeration. Maybe she hadn't had real opportunity for Academy Award-type emoting, but she got the Shell Scott Award. Her beige-blonde hair was darker now, heavy with water, but the dampness couldn't dim the brightness of those blue eyes and it sure hadn't lessened the stimulating impact of her outfit.
They didn't wear any underthings on Venus. Didn't wear much overthings, either. The thin cloth clung to her firm healthy young body as if alive and with a sneaky mind of its own, a transparent covering more provocative than nudity. I pulled my eyes back up to her face but it didn't help much. Those smiling red lips looked as if they'd been expelled from kissing school. But not for playing hooky.
"What are you thinking?" Cherry asked me.
She was still smiling so apparently she didn't know. And I wasn't going to tell her, either. Instead I said, with remarkable stupidity, "Oh, just ... thoughts."
"Yes. I do it often when I think."
"You're very kind. And astute. And gorgeous. Hoo —"
Cherry colored slightly but prettily, possibly because of my comments or possibly because of the way my eyes were rolling, and then she tried to cover herself with her hands, but she didn't have enough hands.
"Well," she said, "I have to go change."
"Get out of these wet clothes."
"And into some dry ones, of course."
"Of course. You'd hardly get into more wet ones, would you? Is there anything I —"
"No. You'd peek."
"I suppose I would. How did you know?"
"Because you've been peeking. Bye. See you later, Shell."
She walked past me and undulated away toward the parking lot. Yeah, the parking lot. That's where her dressing room was. Her car was her dressing room. You've heard of the producer who spared no expense to keep his crew feeling happy and loved and well adjusted? Jeremy Slade wasn't him.
You couldn't blame Slade too much, though. He was working on a very tight and not magnificent budget. Moreover, he'd gotten stuck for a wad while making Ghost of the Creeping Goo when one of his female leads flipped out of the picture for two or three weeks; there'd even been rumors Slade was on the edge of going broke. But he'd managed to scrape enough loot together to keep going — and now it looked as if the film, which he'd managed to salvage and complete, would make a packet.
The parking lot was about two hundred yards from where the current scenes were being shot, and I naturally watched Cherry walking away. Then I heard Phrye yelling.
There was what appeared to be total confusion for a while — men moving cameras, reflectors, electrical cable, booms; setting up a couple of high-powered lamps — but in a remarkably short time the movement slowed and nearly stopped, the apparent confusion having been merely the efficient preparations of a well trained and experienced crew.
"All right, shut up," Phrye yelled. "Shut up! Dammit, we're making a picture here, dammit. Shut up, quiet!"
Excerpted from Kill Him Twice by Richard S. Prather. Copyright © 1993 Richard S. Prather. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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