The Secret Admirer

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He watched her unlock the front door and step inside her house…for the thousandth time.

Ann Belloc, a struggling Hollywood actress, barely had enough money for her rent again. Her fashionable little cottage was costing her most of the money she made every month. The thought of going back to Oklahoma made her cringe, but also motivated her to keep trying. If only she’d get a break. Bit parts in commercials didn’t fit her interpretation of being an actress. But, so far, they were paying her bills…barely. She believed someone would discover her talents and career doors would open some day.

Bella Karpov, a young actor from Romania found Hollywood very inviting. He was offered parts in several B-movies the day he arrived in Tinseltown over three year’s ago. He had starred in a couple of minor movies in Europe before setting his sights on America. His part as a vampire in both of the movies had earned good reviews. After his last movie, “A Vampire in Venice,” he decided to stay in the horror genre when he came to America. One producer looked at him, and said Bella looked a hell of a lot like Bela Lugosi, whose portrayals of vampires made him a horror legend in Hollywood.

Ann was excited. She’d been asked to interview for a starring part in a movie. It was an independent film with a modest budget, but the director, Earl Acker, had earned his chops in the industry. Anything he was involved with usually turned out making lots of money for everyone. The movie was a remake of the 1936 film “Dracula’s Daughter” starring Gloria Holden and Otto Kruger.

She was interviewing for the part of Marya Zaleska, the daughter of Count Dracula. In the storyline Dracula has died and she hoped that by destroying her body he would never be able to influence her again. Her ultimate goal was to live as a human. Things don’t go too well however, and her dream was destroyed by a jealous manservant who killed her in the end.

Ann had no qualms about making her acting debut in a horror movie. She actually enjoyed the genre and grew up watching Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon on late night TV with her sister Belinda.

She had the script with her when she went home and planned on reading it over a TV dinner. When her VW pulled up in the driveway she thought she saw a man standing next to the tree across from her house. She turned the motor off and looked again. Nothing. Shrugging it off, she walked up to the front door and unlocked it.

He watched her unlock her front door and sighed. She was so beautiful.

Ann had two weeks to study for her part and to work on getting in character. Her cat, Hercules, a huge tabby, was her captive audience. When Hercules got bored and wandered off, she turned to the tall antique mirror that was her grandmother’s and continued her performance. When the day of the interview finally came, she felt confident that she could do the part.

When Bella signed a contract with Universal Studios he immediately bought a house in Hollywood Hills. Compared to the mansions in the area, it was small and an old. It had a history going back to the 1930’s. In those days it was one of only a few in the area and was known for its wild parties. It had secret doors and rooms. The large cellar was once stocked with expensive wines from all over the world. It was one of the reasons he bought the place. The native stone construction reminded him of another cellar in Transylvania when he was just a boy.

He was taught, from earliest memory that he was special. His parents were both vampires and he had somehow inherited a gene that allowed him to walk in the sunlight despite being a vampire. He was unique. There had never been a vampire like him before and probably would never be another.

Ann’s interview was so good, that she was hired on the spot! The next year of filming seemed to go by in a daze, as she shot scene after scene, coming home exhausted (but thrilled) every night. When the film was in the can, she was sent on a promotional tour to drum up interest in it. It was a limited release at first, but turned out to be so popular theatres clamored for it nationwide. Ann was not only very photogenic, she turned out to be a good actor too. It was a pleasant surprise for both producer and director who took a chance on her.

Ann was singing with the radio as she drove up her driveway in her new BMW. So much had happened in two short years. Her money worries were over. She was dating a brilliant doctor and was set to star in another horror movie. It was another remake. This time it was the 1932 movie, Island of Lost Souls. She was cast in actress Kathleen Burke’s part as Lota the Panther Woman. What really made her excited by the production was the producers got Bella Karpov on loan from Universal to play the leading part, Dr. Moreau. She was definitely a fan of his work. As she walked up to the front door she was still humming a the tune from the radio.

He watched her walk up the little cobblestone path to her front door once again…his heart beating excitedly at the thought of kissing her.

Ann met Bella on the first day of filming. He was sitting in a folding chair looking at his script, already dressed for his part.

“Hello!” she said walking up to him with a hand out to shake, “My name is Ann Belloc, we’ll be working together.”

He stood up and gave a small bow, “Yes…I know who you are. My pleasure,” he said in heavily accented English.

She couldn’t help being charmed by his old world mannerism.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this – and I’m sure you’ve heard it before – but you really resemble Bela Lugosi.

He smiled. A reflection of the legendary actor’s mysterious smile.

“You honor me. I am related to that great actor who was born in Lugoj, Romania, not far from the small town I come from. My parents told me I bear an uncanny resemblance to Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (his real name). He was a first cousin on my mother’s side.”

“How interesting! How do you feel about playing Charles Laughton’s roll instead of your relative’s part as The Sayer of the Law?

“It’s what you call show biz,” he replied with his enigmatic smile.

As months of filming wore on they became good friends. Her bubbly personality contrasted with his more somber persona in a good way. They often sat together at lunch and in between shoots, exchanging stories about themselves. Unknown to Ann, Bella had mind-melded with her. He could hear her thoughts from any distance with his supernatural abilities.

It was later than usual. Ann didn’t like coming home so late but she was invited to the producer’s house with some other cast members for an informal party that lasted longer than she thought it would. When she got home she noticed her front porch light was out. It was a full moon and she was able to select the right key to open the front door. As she stepped inside a body slammed into her from behind, sending her crashing onto the hardwood living room floor!

Then someone was on top of her! As she struggled with him a ray of light came through the open front door and illuminated the attackers face. He was her first agent when she moved to California, but she fired him after unwanted advances. Now he was attempting to rape her.

Miles away Bella stopped playing the piano in his living room and heard Ann’s fear! He got up and walked over to a partly opened window and flew through it in his bat form. It only took minutes before he appeared at Ann’s house. He saw a man tearing off her clothes, and screaming at her to stop resisting him!

Then Bella grabbed the man by his shoulders and threw him across the room. In an instant he was bent over the prone man and biting into his jugular vein! It was over so fast Ann only had time to sit up and pull her torn blouse around herself.

Despite seeing that he was a supernatural being, she wasn’t afraid when he came over to here. “Thank you,” she said with all of her heart.

She watched his eyes glow in the dark like a cats, as he answered her, “The show must go on, right?” he said with that mysterious grin.

As It Stands, when can you remember ever reading about a good vampire?

The Arabian Theatre Murders

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The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.

The First, and Last, Dinner

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The director was dressed in a flamboyant red cloak and cowl. He was smiling as he watched the guests arrive.

From his viewpoint he could see all the action, along with the two camera men who were filming the proceedings.

The restaurant was spacious and elegantly appointed.

Tantalizing odors wafted from the kitchen as waiters and waitresses scurried to serve the well-dressed diners. The tables were all set with Noritake China dinnerware.

The restaurant offered the finest wines in the world. Gourmet cooks staffed the huge kitchen where world-class meals were being created. The dining room was decorated with red velvet drapes framing full-sized gold-gilded mirrors.

Soft music soothed the diner’s ears. A low buzz of muffled conversations gently bounced off the walls and mingled with the subtle scent of roses.

Everyone was looking forward to the entertainment. No one knew it was going to be, but surely it was going to be classy. It was opening night, and they all knew something special was going to happen.

The diners paid a lot of money for the privilege of being the first customers in this restaurant. Only millionaires and billionaires could afford to attend this dinner show. Celebrities and CEO’s were claiming bragging rights because they got invitations.

As the evening progressed, the cooks and kitchen staff departed. Then the servers were gone. Puzzled patrons were having a hard time thinking. The odor in the room had changed from roses to something else.

At midnight the main lights dimmed and a small glass gallery came into view above the diners. In it stood a man dressed in red cloak. On either side of him, were men behind large cameras recording the event.

“Welcome! My name is Rex Brinner. What do you think about my costume? I’m the closest you’ll ever get to the devil in this world. You know why?”

It was getting harder for the diners to hear Rex. There was a roaring in their ears and they were getting increasingly angry. Seeing red. A mindless mass of growing adrenaline.

“I’m going to watch you all die! This will be the ultimate snuff film! The pinnacle of my film career! I’m even going to be sporting about it. The last person alive will get to go free!”

The diners jumped up from their chairs and fell upon each other like starving hyenas. Their unreasoning rage was all-consuming as they fought to survive in the strange fog. Men and women slashing each other with knives. Chairs flying across tables.

Screams. The entire room was soon splashed with blood. The desperate duels were being recorded by the two camera men. It lasted for hours. Beyond Rex’s expectations. Finally only one figure was left standing.

Rex went downstairs and opened a side door to the main dinning room. The gas had dissipated because he turned the fans on an hour ago.

The lone survivor was a small bald man covered in blood, and still clutching a bloody steak knife. Rex smiled at him and said,  “congratulations! You’re free!” and pulled out his gun and shot him.

No witnesses. It was an absolute rule in this movie industry.

As It Stands, this is my updated version of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre tale, Masque of the Red Death.