The Unholy Page 1


“So, you think you know the truth?” Dianna Breen, femme fatale, demanded. She leaned on the desk in the P.I.’s dingy office, skirt tight against her curvaceous form, eyes sultry as she stared at the hero, Sam Stone. The film was dark and shadowy, and sexual tension between the players was palpable.

Sam Stone made no pretense of looking away from Dianna Breen’s chest, modestly covered in frilly white cotton beneath the linen jacket of her suit. “I do know the truth. I know you’re a hussy and a thief, and I don’t believe you’d think twice before resorting to murder.”

“You know nothing!” Dianna Breen leaned down to bring her face close to Sam Stone’s. She reached past him, drew a cigarette from a pack on the desk and continued to stare at him as he fumbled for his lighter, then lit the cigarette.

“I know that you’d do anything to own the Egyptian Museum, Dianna. Anything,” he added softly.

She moved away from him at last, striding toward the window, her walk a study in slow sensuality. There, however, in what remained of the winter light, her face told the story; she was being wronged. She was not a murderess. She turned to him, hurt and passion in her eyes. “You don’t understand! You don’t understand about…the museum,” she said. She gazed back out on the Los Angeles street; beyond the window, day was dying. The city’s shadows suited the ambience of the black-and-white film perfectly. “It was never mine—you must understand. It was never mine. It was Frederick’s, and it killed him, not I.”

The sound of the old reels flipping through the projector suddenly seemed loud as Sam Stone watched Dianna Breen incredulously.

Sam’s thoughts were heard then. He was narrating as he stood and walked over to the gorgeous and seductive widow. “I couldn’t believe it. A museum didn’t kill. But the way she was looking at me, those enormous blue eyes of hers brilliant with tears, a trembling in her lips—”


Alistair Archer nearly jumped out of his seat; he barely managed to cut off the startled scream that threatened to escape him. Jenny Henderson had come running in, slipping her arms around him from behind, and nearly giving him a heart attack.

He was in lust—if not love—with Jenny. There was something about her, an aura of film noir seductress. She had Lana Turner dark brown hair that swept over her forehead, and she wore rich dark shades of lipstick. Today, she was in tight-fitting jeans and a cotton tailored shirt that reminded him of Marilyn Monroe.

“Hey!” he said, standing and allowing her to slide into his arms. His voice was a little tremulous, his muscles a little unsteady. “How did you get in here?” he asked, glancing back toward the door. Black Box Cinema was closed on Sundays; every other night of the week, a film noir movie played at 8:00 p.m. precisely. Or there might be more recent a movie influenced by the director’s vision of film noir. The cinema was owned by Alistair’s father, special effects whiz Eddie Archer, and stood just off Sunset Boulevard in the Los Feliz area. Eddie also owned the adjacent studio, and both buildings were situated on two acres surrounded by a very old cemetery.

Eddie Archer had bought the property twenty years ago when he started his special-effects business. For the previous five decades, the now-defunct Claymore Illusions had operated from the massive warehouse-style building in back. The company had been founded by the first Lucas Claymore and continued by his son, who’d eventually sold the place. All Eddie had needed to do was update it to create Archer’s Wizardry and Effects. While his artists and artisans sometimes found the cinema next door a bit annoying, with tourists parking here and there and everywhere, Eddie was adamant that it would stay. He loved film noir, and having his own cinema meant he could watch his favorite old movies on the big screen to his heart’s content. He made them available to the public as a way of sharing his passion, infecting others with his personal enthusiasm.

An underground tunnel—now a museum featuring posed mannequins in famous scenes from film noir and selected classic movies from the ’40s and ’50s—connected the cinema and the studio. But the main doors to the studio, which were next door and about fifty feet behind the parking lot, remained locked and guarded. During production, the studio often went into lockdown, as it was now.

Lockdown was for secrecy as well as security. No one wanted a big-budget movie’s effects and surprises out on the internet before the movie reached the screen. Archer’s Wizardry and Effects was busy creating the costumes and creatures for The Unholy, the next remake to come to the silver screen.

The Unholy was actually an updated version of Sam Stone and the Curious Case of the Egyptian Museum. Unlike remakes that simply remade an old film, like Psycho, The Unholy used the same characters and situations, but cast them in a contemporary light.

Sam Stone now had a cell phone and a computer.

Alistair was happy that the studio had the momentous task of bringing the film up-to-date, and he knew the effects would be splendid, but he still wasn’t sure about a remake. In his opinion, some things were better off left alone. Film noir didn’t really fit with computers and cell phones.

“What are you doing here?” Alistair asked as the film wound on and the projector clicked, clicked, clicked. “How did you get in?” Alistair had keys to the studio, to the doors that separated the underground tunnel from the studio, and to the Black Box Cinema. His father trusted him completely.

He hated to betray that trust in any way. Even for Jenny. But he’d brought Jenny in with him before. It wasn’t unusual that she’d come; it was unusual that she’d been able to just slip in.

She touched his cheek and smiled seductively. At twenty-two, his senior by a year, she already had the moves—as well as the appearance—of a femme fatale down pat. She eased away, flicking back the strands of hair that had hidden her eyes. “You left the front door open, silly,” she told him. “I started to knock, but…it was open.” She grinned, and looked more like any other young Hollywood hopeful. “The rest of the place is tight as a drum, but my dear, darling, responsible Alistair, believe it or not, you left the front door open.” She paused to give him a charming pout. “I’ve been trying to call you. You didn’t answer your cell.”

He had to wonder what it was about one person that could turn the senses of another upside down. The senses and the sanity. Yes, Jenny was beautiful and perfect, but…it was Hollywood. The stunning, the perfect and the beautiful all walked about, ever hopeful, some willing to do whatever it took to get where they wanted to go, others starry-eyed and naive. He was the son of one of the most respected men in the movie business, and he suspected Jenny hung on to him because of what she thought he could do for her.

“Sorry,” he said, and the tone of his voice was annoyingly husky. She knew she sent his libido off the charts, and he hated the pathetic puppy-dog tail-wagging demeanor he must put forth when she was around. “I was watching the movie. It’s my favorite. Sam Stone and the Curious Case of the Egyptian Museum. I really love the film, and the special effects for it were actually done here, when the place was still Claymore Illusions.” That fact added to the pride his father took in securing the special-effects contract for The Unholy.

Jenny shook her head. “Silly boy, living in the past! Except, of course…”

The production company was trying to keep the information about the Sam Stone remake quiet, but of course the rumor mill was already on the case. The company had neither rejected nor affirmed the claim. Rumors and anticipation could give a film a tremendous box-office advantage.

“So, um, why are you here?” Alistair asked.

Despite her imitation of classic Hollywood vamps, Jenny was not a fan of film noir, or any other “old” movies. She loved silly modern-day romances and adventure flicks, the kind with überbuff heroes who lived exciting adventures and saved the world.

She threw her head back and touched her hair again, one of her moves calculated to be uncalculatedly sexy.

“I heard the studio’s locked down!” she said breathlessly.

He nodded.

“But not to the son of Eddie Archer!”

He groaned aloud. “Jenny, you know it’s not just my dad. It’s the movie studio, the producers, the directors—they don’t want information on pictures or anything on costumes and effects getting out.”

She gave him her pout again. She did it very well, making a little moue of hurt. “Alistair, you know I’d never tell a soul what I’ve seen. I’d never tell a soul I was even in there. But they’re still casting for extras—extras who might wind up with speaking roles. If I had a feel for what was going on, it would help me immensely. Please?”

He hesitated. Jenny always did pay up. If he took her through the studio, he’d be rewarded that night.

He was pretty sure she’d learned her lovemaking from the movies—dirty ones, at that. She was vocal; she liked to crawl on top and twist around like a voodoo queen dancing around a pole.

“You have a key to the studio,” she said.

He groaned again. “If I tried to go in with a guest, old Colin Bailey, who’s on guard at the reception desk, would push his alarm button and every cop in the area would appear,” he said. Colin Bailey had worked for his father for the full twenty years he’d owned the studio—which was most of Alistair’s life. He was like a fixture, dedicated to the studio. And during lockdown, he was fierce.

She moved closer to him. “I realize we can’t go in by the front but we can sneak in because you have a key and the pass code to get there through the tunnel door. And Colin Bailey would never see us, because you know right where the cameras are so we can avoid them.”

Almost involuntarily he felt his left pocket. He did have the keys. But he’d told her the truth. Colin Bailey would report Alistair to his father without blinking an eye.

She shimmied up against him, her body pressed to his in just the right way to elicit an immediate response. Her perfect breasts—albeit made that way with some saline enhancement—were firm against his chest and her groin pushed against his.

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