A projectionist is shot dead and his grieving widow asks Jessie (script girl for Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks) if she can find out who killed him, but who shot Joe Petrovitch? And how did the murderer leave the movie theatre without being seen? Jessie must go into the dead man’s past and uncover dark secrets from another continent and another era…
Death visited Hollywood about as often as it did the rest of the country. Children were carried off by polio; grandparents gave way to old age; and the influenza came shopping for victims with sad predictability. But murder? Murder dropped by a little more frequently here than it did other places.
Joe Petrovitch was murdered on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early October during the ninth reel of Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, gunned down in the projection booth of the theatre where he worked. His young assistant witnessed the crime close up, although shock muddled the story he gave the cops afterward. I had never met Joe Petrovitch, but I attended his funeral on Wednesday at Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery because his wife Barbara worked as a hairdresser at Pickford-Fairbanks Studio where I’ve been an assistant Script Girl for nearly a year.
“I don’t know Barbara very well,” I whispered to Mildred Young, my friend in Makeup who was standing beside me in the shade of an oak tree as we waited for mourners to gather at the gravesite. I scanned the crowd. “Does she have any kids?”
Mildred had been hired at the studio just a few months ago, but Makeup and Hair Styling worked hand in glove, so she knew Barbara Petrovitch better than I did. She shook her head. “No children, but she has a few relatives who will help her through this. That’s her sister, over there, in the dark purple suit and sunglasses. And that bruiser on her left is her brother.”
I studied both siblings, looking for family resemblances. The two sisters had the same sturdy build and thick ankles. Their brother was broad-shouldered and muscular, and carried himself with the self-confidence that comes from being bigger and stronger than everyone else. As Barbara soaked her handkerchief, her siblings maintained dry eyes and tight lips. The sister clutched a black handbag in one hand and a single white rose in the other. The brother looked over their heads toward the casket with hard, narrowed eyes that lacked any pretence of grief. Suddenly, as if he sensed my thoughts, he turned his head and met my gaze with hostile eyes. Embarrassed to be caught staring, I looked away.
“Did Joe have any family?” I murmured.
“I don’t think so,” said Mildred. “None that Barbara ever mentioned anyway. They’d only been married a few years. A late marriage for both, I believe.”
Near us stood our employers, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the greatest stars in motion pictures. Not only were they, along with Charlie Chaplin, the best-loved actors in the whole film world, they were the only three with the business savvy and gumption to start up their own studio when everyone said it couldn’t be done. A gust of warm wind lifted Miss Pickford’s black veil, revealing a glimpse of her famous flawless skin, but even with her face obscured, just about anyone would have recognized “America’s Sweetheart” from her honey-gold ringlets and diminutive size. She was several years older than I, but we were so close in height and weight that she’d asked me to stand in for her on more than one occasion. From the back, with my own coppery bob covered by a wig from Barbara Petrovitch’s cupboards, audiences could not tell us apart. Miss Pickford’s husband, the handsome “King of Hollywood” and my boss, turned toward Mildred and me, removed his sunglasses, and flashed us one of his famous grins.
“It was kind of them to give us the time off,” remarked Mildred.
RENTING SILENCE, Book 3 in this series, is also available from Severn House.
PRAISE FOR RENTING SILENCE
“A little sparkle, a hint of sex, some wily Prohibition-era shenanigans, and one smart cookie in the lead make this a great read that’s similar to Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying” Booklist
“All the details of her journey not only advance the story but are fascinating in themselves” Publishers Weekly
“With a well-developed and surprising plot twist, an appealing, resourceful amateur detective, and fascinating period details, this entertaining historical will delight fans of Old Hollywood and those who like the 1920s-set mysteries of Suzanne Arruda and George Baxt” Library Journal