The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.
“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.
Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.
Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”
Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.
Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”
“Yes,” Ryan answered.
Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”
“You know I would never get you into trouble,” she said.
As Delisha went to fetch breakfast and Ingrid hurried to shower, Ryan opened the envelope. He puzzled at the wide-looped lettering on the envelope and read: “You and your new blond girlfriend will both be killed if you reveal her identity or go to the police. We are watching you: every minute, every day, every move.”
Ryan shuddered. He re-read it and noted the use of the colon and parallel construction. Whoever wrote this was someone with writing knowledge. Ryan shook his head: here he was getting a death threat, and he was analyzing the writing style.
Ryan decided to wait to tell Ingrid. Then, they would go to the police together. Meanwhile the biggest news at the Cannes Film Festival, of course, was right under his nose. Ryan was still sitting next to a dead woman who was as a result internationally famous.
Ryan glanced at Ingrid – her blond hair, her luminous skin, her ripe figure. Was he being a sucker for a pretty actress? Or was he in the snare of a femme fatale? He didn’t think so, but neither had William Hurt in Body Heat or Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. Ryan instead convinced himself that he had stumbled into the role of a valiant knight as if inside a Hitchcock motion picture. Ingrid certainly was in the same league as that director’s cool blond beauties – Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, and Ryan’s favorite, Grace Kelly.
Ryan punched his cell. “Lt. Savin, s’il vous plait.” The call went to voicemail. “This is Ryan Hackbart, the film critic for the Hollywood New Times trade. Call me as soon as you get this message. It’s urgent. Merci.”
Red, yellow, white, orange and pink – they were the most beautiful roses Ryan had ever seen. Separated in rectangular blocks, they blossomed around a stone memorial to France’s World War I veterans. Ryan and Ingrid perched on a park bench in the rose garden just east of the Miramar Hotel caressed by the sun’s rays and massaged by the sea breeze. They were waiting for Lt. Savin, the only man that Ryan trusted among the French authorities. Ryan considered it ironic that, when he had finally stopped to smell the roses, it was because someone was trying to kill him or, at the least, frame him for murder.
“Whoever is behind this has a lot of resources and smarts,” Ryan said. “Gunnar Severeid has that. After all, he is both a Norwegian multibillionaire industrialist and movie mogul.”
“I still don’t see why you think it’s Mr. Severeid,” Ingrid insisted.
“Because I’m sure Gunnar knows much more about what’s going on about this than I do."
“You do not think it is because he beat you up at The Ice Princess premiere party?” she asked.
“He didn’t beat me up,” Ryan emphasized. “He sucker-punched me.”
“This policeman you are meeting, you think he is a good guy?"
“You must not be seen by Lt. Savin. He will be here any minute,” Ryan warned. “Go sit over by that war monument and keep your head turned away.”
Less than a minute later, Lt. Savin approached.
“I think I know who your killer is,” Ryan said by way of a hello.
“I hope it is the same man that we are bringing in for questioning,” Lt. Savin said.
“I have another surprise for you,” Ryan said.
“Yes, I already know what your other surprise is. Where is she?” Lt. Savin asked.
“How long have you known that she never was murdered?"
“We suspected it all along,” Lt. Savin said. “The department still isn’t certain who the dead woman in the Carlton hotel room was. There was no I.D. on the body. And, of course, now she has been cremated in the foreign country of Norway.”
“Well, it’s still surprising that no one has reported the dead woman missing.”
“It is a film festival. People come and go all the time,” Lt. Savin said.
“But why would Gunnar Severeid claim that the dead woman was Ingrid when he knew it was not her all the time?” Ryan asked.
“You think Ingrid Bjorge is still in danger?”
“She could be in danger like Eve Kendall in North By Northwest. You must know that film since you’re so fond of the Hollywood classics.”
“I think you have seen too many movies, especially Hitchcock’s,” Lt. Savin answered. “Things are not so complicated or computational in real life.”
Lt. Savin reached into his wallet and took out an gate entry card. He handed it to Ryan. “This opens the villa where my apartment is on the Rue de Claude Raines just across the main roadway. It is not far from here. Get Ingrid and meet me there later. I will help you both." He got up and reached for his pack of Galois. “Lock the door, and don’t do anything rash.”
“Don’t worry. I’m too tired,” Ryan said.
“I sensed that. Otherwise you would be citing Hitchcock’s Frenzy, where the unjustly accused killer lets the man who had framed him use his apartment flat.” Ryan’s head snapped back. “Just joking,” Lt. Savin said and patted Ryan on the back. “Of course, your character in Frenzy was cleared.”
Ryan and Ingrid walked quickly from the rose garden, navigated west on the Croisette, then skirted the hordes of tourists that now clogged the Cannes pathways. The walk began to clear Ryan’s head. Suddenly, he remembered something."
"There was a porn actress who was supposed to come to Nick’s yacht for a T&A shoot the day I was there,” Ryan said. “Nick was aggravated when she didn’t show up. I saw a photo of her at the Hands-On film company’s promotional presentation. She was young, pretty and blond like you. Maybe she was killed in a case of mistaken identity. Or maybe she was hired to impersonate you."
Lt. Savin’s apartment was ample and empty. Ryan hecked in with Delisha and gave her the address so she could meet him there. In that brief time, he managed to lose Ingrid.
No response. He peered out the window, looking for Ingrid, and instead spotted two gendarmes gazing up at him. Ryan checked the bathroom. No one. “I can’t believe it,” Ryan said to Delisha when she arrived. “I specifically told her not to go anywhere or to do anything without me.”
“You’ve got to chill,” Delisha soothed. “I’m sure there’s an explanation.” She glanced at the wall paintings. “This cop has good taste in art. These are from Picasso’s cubist period.”
"Lt. Savin told me he used to work at the Musée Picasso in nearby Antibes," Ryan explained. Then he jolted. “Gunnar Severeid is a Picasso collector. I bet the two men know each other. Maybe they’re even in cahoots. I’m such an idiot. I led him right to her.”
“So you think either Gunnar Severeid is going to harm Ingrid?” Delisha asked.
“Well, it’s very possible. Gunnar is one ruthless bastard.”
“I am sorry, Jean Robie, but I need your help. I can’t go to the police.” Ryan said.
“When you can’t go to the police, that is truly when the executive manager of the Carlton Hotel steps in,” Jean Robie said with a twinkle.
The two men stood in the lobby. Around them, bellman toted large boxes of office equipment and promotional kits, while the movie publicists barked at them to be careful.
“My request is going to blow your mind, Jean Robie,” Ryan explained. “You’re going to have to trust me. It’s about Ingrid Bjorge."
“The dead Norwegian actress?”
“She’s not dead.”
“Qu-est ce que…. What?” Jean Robie stammered.
“I’ll fill you in later. She’s been with me. At least, she was with me until an hour ago. She’s alive, Jean Robie. But she soon may be murduered. It’s a long story, and I’m not even sure what is going on. But I fear Gunnar Severeid is going to kill her.”
“This whole thing is so crazy, but I’m now sure that Gunnard Severeid has been behind everything since the get-go,” Ryan said. “He knows she is alive. “
“This is truly a police matter then. Not something for a hotelier like myself.”
“I believe she’s in his Imperial Suite. Gunnar Severeid has her. And there is no telling what he will do to her."
“Mr. Severeid is our most important guest. He is paying a very large sum of money for the privilege of not being disturbed,” Jean Robie stressed.
“She is in great danger!”
The cream-colored door to the Imperial Suite opened on the third ring. The butler peered out and instantly recognized Jean Robie who imperiously addressed him.
“Claude, would you tell Mr. Gunnar Severeid that I wish to see him. It is a security matter of the most urgency.”
The butler ushered them inside. Jean Robie and Ryan followed into the main sitting room. The walls were a soft cream with caramel colored sofas garnished with light-colored pillows: powder blue, light pink and lime green. The drapes were praline and shimmered in the sunlight. The suite was adorned with period furniture – Louis XVI and Directory.
Ryan turned to look directly into the chin of Gunnar Severeid. The Norwegian walked over to the window and closed both doors to the balcony. At the same moment, two men in black suits emerged from the side bedroom. One stood by the entrance, while the other stood near Severeid.
“What do you want?” Gunnar finally said.
“It’s about Ingrid Bjorge. You know she is alive,” Ryan said.
“No, Ingrid Bjorge is dead and buried at the Rikskvaller cemetery in Oslo,” Severeid insisted. “Don’t you watch the news?”
“She is alive, and you likely have her here or stowed away somewhere,” Ryan exclaimed. "I know you are responsible for her disappearance. You had her taken from Lt. Savin’s apartment just a little while ago. He alerted you as to where she was. He is your inside man in the French police force.”
“This is an incredible fiction,” Gunnar said. “Haven’t you done me enough harm with your horrible review of my film?”
“This isn’t about my review. I have come because of your Picassos.”
“I am not in the frame of mind, Mr. Hackbart, for American humor.”
“You and Lt. Savin both love Picasso,” Ryan said.
Gunnar Severeid looked straight at Ryan. “I will indulge you no longer, Mr. Hackbart. You must leave.”
“If the French police find out that Ingrid Bjorge is alive, and if they find the true identity of the murdered woman, they will likely charge you.”
“You are mad. This is beyond preposterous, beyond even the crazy plot of a Hollywood film,” Severeid pronounced.
The door buzzed. The butler allowed in three members of the National Police. Gunnar barked at them in French and glared at Ryan. The movie mogul’s blue eyes were brutally cold, searing at the most piercing hue on the hate spectrum.
“You must come with us, Monsieur,” the head cop said to Ryan.
Ryan tried to move his feet, but they stayed glued to the carpet. His body wouldn’t move, either. His cell phone rang “Hello?” His legs shook and buckled. “No, you’ve got to stay on the line.”
Ryan dropped the phone to his side. He tried to speak. Nothing came out. He took a deep breath. “That was Ingrid Bjorge,” he finally said. “I am so sorry. She is okay. You don’t have her here. My mistake.” Ryan felt his hands shake. “Mr. Severeid, you alone identified the body for the police. But you knew it was not her. Now, I believe you are planning to kill her so that there is no further complications with your trying to sell your movie to Hollywood.”
“I would never kill her,” Gunnar raged. His blue eyes ignited. Like lightning bolts, coming down from Thor, shooting straight through Ryan who suddenly melted in the Norwegian multibillionaire’s icy glare.
Then Ryan heard his voice say, “I am sorry. I believe you. You would never kill her. I can see that by your eyes.”
The world’s fourth richest man did not answer. He sat down in one of the caramel-colored chairs. For a long minute he did not say anything, Then Gunnar looked directly at Ryan.
“My daughter, where is she? Is she unharmed? Where was she calling from?”
The reflections of the flames from the hotel suite’s fireplace flickered as Ryan sat on one side of Ingrid on the sofa and Gunnar on the other. Delisha was there, too, as well as Lt. Savin. On this eve, the intimate gathering was to celebrate Ingrid’s return from the dead.
“I still can’t believe how you figured it out,” Ingrid whispered to Ryan.
“I never thought of it until that second. But when I saw his eyes, I saw that same blue. Before I knew it, my mouth was open, and the words shot out,” he explained.
“Yes, I have been making some phone calls to Norway, some of my dead mother’s old friends,” Ingrid said. “They tell me that Gunnar Severeid was often in Munkholmen on business. He obviously met my mother there.”
“And your mother was very beautiful,” Ryan said.
A wine steward marched out from the kitchen. Gunnar rose, held his glass high, and his hand shook slightly.
“This is the best day of my life,” Sevareid said. “Because I can finally acknowledge and embrace the wonderful daughter whom I learned about too late in her young life.”
A tear trickled down Ingrid’s cheeks.
“Many good and wonderful things will happen to you now,” Ryan whispered to her.
Ingrid got up and walked over to her father. She took him by the hand. No one said a word. They didn’t have to.
Ryan spent the next day doing what he’d come to Cannes to do: reviewing movies. He saw three films and published three critiques. Finally, he was in fine writing form just as the festival was finishing. Understandably, Matt Damon wasn’t taking his calls. As for who had murdered the woman in the Carlton hotel room, or pushed producer Nick Steele past the brink, or threatened the life of Ingrid Bjorge, Ryan was going to leave real life to the police. Or was he?
This story first posted on May 11, 2017.