The showbiz murder attempts mount as famed P.I. McNulty tries to prevent more. 1,570 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Mandeville Moving Pictures was six weeks into a ten-week shoot on A Whisper In The Dark when the stalker finally made his move on Jade San Vincente, Hollywood’s newest and brightest young star who also happened to be the lead actress in Mitch and Billie Mandeville’s newest movie.
“Quiet, please!” the assistant director called out. “This is picture!”
Everybody was gathered at the far end of the Malibu Pier to film a crucial scene where Jade must wordlessly decide if her character will honor her dementia-stricken mother’s pleas to help her die. As Jade took her place at the rail, her assistant held up a parasol to shade the actress from the bright Malibu sun. After a few quiet words with Jade, the director nodded to the A.D. who then ordered the camera operator to “roll camera!”
All eyes were on Jade as a range of emotions flitted across her face. It was a touching moment and Jade was capturing her character’s anguish beautifully. Then, from the corner of his eye, private detective McNulty caught a flash of movement. Someone on a ten-speed bicycle was hurtling down the pier toward them!
The bike knifed through several crew members, knocking them down, and raced straight for Jade. McNulty saw the rider was holding a plastic drink container in one hand. Moving reflexively, The P.I. grabbed the parasol and stepped in front of Jade just as the rider squeezed out a long stream of hydrochloride acid from the container.
But McNulty was a split second quicker, thrusting the open parasol in front of Jade’s stunned and terrified face. The burning liquid splashed across the cloth fabric and instantly began eating through it.
“Get that son of bitch!” Billie shouted. “Stop him!”
The attacker spun the ten-speed around and pedaled back the way he came. But McNulty was waiting for him and jammed the smoldering, tattered parasol into the bike’s front wheel. The bike upended and the rider was thrown off, landing hard on the pier’s wooden planking. Several crew members moved in, but the attacker sprang to his feet and pulled a large hunting knife from a sheath on his ankle.
Stripping off his jacket, McNulty called out, “Hey, dipshit!”
The attacker whirled around and McNulty’s jacket caught him full in the face. As the P.I. pulled it away, McNulty nailed him with a staggering right cross, followed by a hard kick to the nuts. With a painful groan, the attacker crumpled to his knees and dropped the knife. McNulty pounced with his right fist slamming repeatedly into the attacker’s face like a piston. The detective was so enraged, it took two burly grips to forcibly pull him away.
“Did you get that?” the director asked the cameraman, awed by what they had just witnessed.
“You bet! Nobody yelled ‘Cut!’” the camera operator laughed.
“I saw the clip on YouTube,” Hollywood business journalist Micki Finch said. “You wailed the piss out of that guy.”
“I merely restrained the suspect,” McNulty corrected her.
“Last time I checked, it had over a million views,” Micki smiled. “He just shrugged. “You’re one popular badass, McNulty. So who was he?”
“Some guy she knew from high school. He wanted her to invest in a fleet of food trucks, but she turned him down. Told him the last thing L.A. needed was another pork belly banh mi.”
“So he tried to shake down Mitch instead,” Micki guessed.
McNulty nodded. “He got the idea when he read Jade would be starring in Mitch’s next production.”
“What happened to the jerk?”
“Still in prison.”
“And Mitch?” Micki probed. “Did you ever find out who was slowly murdering him?”
Mitch had collapsed on the set two weeks before Whispers In The Dark wrapped. Fortunately, the production nurse was close by and immediately began CPR. By the time the paramedics arrived, she had succeeded in reviving a faint heartbeat.
Mitch was quickly hustled into an ambulance and rushed to a nearby hospital. But on the way, he went into cardiac arrest and the EKG machine registered only a straight flat line.
“How long has he been flatlining?” the ER doctor demanded when Mitch was rolled in.
“Five minutes,” a paramedic replied.
The doctor immediately began pounding on Mitch’s chest and ordered the defibrillator. “Clear!” he said as he zapped Mitch with the paddles. Once, twice, three times, but nothing registered on the heart monitor.
“How long now?” the doctor asked finally.
“Seven minutes,” said the paramedic.
The ER doctor was just about to call it when … “Doctor, look!” a nurse shouted. All eyes focused on Mitch as a round spit bubble began to form on his drool-covered lips. “He’s breathing!”
After an injection of epinephrine into his heart, Mitch was once again brought back to life. He was then taken to intensive care where he fell into a coma.
Meanwhile, his mysterious illness continued to baffle the doctors.
Despite Mitch’s absence, the wrap party for Whispers In The Dark took place two weeks later and was still, at his wife’s urging, as festive as possible. And why not? The picture had finished two days early and come in $100,000 under budget. Even more to the point, it was shaping up to overperform.
“Although my husband couldn’t be here,” Billie announced to the assembled cast and crew, “he wants you to know how grateful he is for your help in making a film we can all be proud of.”
Billie toasted, "To Mitch," raising her glass of champagne.
“To Mitch!” shouted the cast and crew, raising their glasses.
As everyone celebrated, McNulty and two LAPD detectives suddenly waded through the crowd and made a shocking announcement.
“Billie Mandeville,” one of the detectives said loudly. “You are under arrest for the attempted murder of your husband!”
“This is crazy!” Billie shouted as the second detective placed her in handcuffs.
“Don’t bother denying it,” McNulty demanded. “We found the arsenic you’ve been feeding him. There was only one person who had the motive, the opportunity and the access. And that was you, his wife.”
With Billie spending her days and nights at Mitch’s bedside in ICU, McNulty and two operatives once again bypassed the couple’s disabled home security system and began searching for the toxin. When they found an open tin of white powdery rat poison in the gardening shed, McNulty and his men collected samples of all the cooking ingredients that someone could mix in the poison without detection.
“The lab found small amounts of arsenic in the flour, the salt shakers and the sugar bowls,” McNulty told the LAPD detectives when he brought the results to their attention. He’d also notified Mitch’s doctors who immediately began an aggressive treatment of stomach suction and fluid replacement. At McNulty’s urging, they also agreed to keep Billie in the dark until he could arrange for her arrest.
Once in police custody, Billie cracked like a rotten walnut, admitting she’d been putting small doses of arsenic into her husband’s food ever since they’d returned from filming in South America.
“I was tired of Mitch getting all the credit for our company’s success,” she fumed. “I was the one who found Whispers In The Dark. I was the one who worked tirelessly with the writer to make it an awards contender. I was the real producer and I wanted everyone in this fucking town to know it!”
Soon after the doctors began treating Mitch for the true cause of his illness, his health improved rapidly. Six weeks later, he was out of the hospital, back at work, and hitting the gym like a body builder on steroids.
“Why are you pushing yourself so hard?” McNulty asked him.
“Have to stay in shape,” Mitch quipped. “Those Golden Globes are friggin’ heavy.”
“So how did Billie avoid doing jail time? You distinctly told me neither case ever went to trial,” Micki reminded him. “Tessa didn’t go to the slammer because she was killed. So what saved Billie?”
“Not what. Who. Solly Teesdale worked out a plea deal with the D.A.,” McNulty replied, referring to Hollywood’s best connected entertainment litigator. “No trial, no publicity, and no jail time.”
“So she’s not doing time?” Micki sputtered with disgust.
“She is,” McNulty said calmly. “In a mental institution, where she’ll remain for hopefully the rest of her life.”
Micki leaned back in her chair and shook her head in disbelief. “C’mon, McNulty, these stories are too good to stay buried. Let me put them on my website.”
“Sorry. I only told you these because client confidentiality ended when Mitch died this morning.” McNulty pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and peeled off a few fifties. “Lunch is on me.”
Just then The P.I.’s cell rang.
“McNulty,” he said crisply into the phone. “How long ago?” he asked, clearly surprised. “I’m on my way.” Then, looking at Micki, he said, “That was one of my contacts in the coroner’s office.”
“If you’re late for an autopsy,” Micki wisecracked, “I hope it’s yours.”
“It’s about Mitch. They were just about to crack him open when the M.E. noticed his eyes were blinking.”
“Oh my God!” Micki gasped.
McNulty exclaimed, heading for the door, “The son of bitch is still alive!”
“So why do they need you?” Micki called after him.
“There’s hemorrhaging in his eyes and fibers in his nose and mouth,” McNulty called back. “It means that somebody tried to murder him again!”