Today's Reading

And then she, too, sprinted for the door. The race was on to get the film into a darkroom where it could be developed and printed in time for the morning editions of the papers. The photographers who carried real press passes would be able to use their papers' darkrooms. Vivian and the others had to do their own developing and printing.

She reached her little red speedster and was about to get behind the wheel when something made her pause.

She glanced back at the front door of the mansion. The angled light from the hallway appeared ominous. The lone officer still stood at the entrance. As she watched, the remaining photographers hurried outside to their cars.

It occurred to her that there might be a market for a photo of the scene of the crime. The big house was a Hollywood legend in its own right. Clara Carstairs was not the first famous resident. She could envision a caption. Mansion of Doom?

She slapped a fresh film holder into the camera, popped in a new flashbulb, and went back up the front walk. It might be a mistake to waste time on an outdoor shot but her intuition told her that it would sell. She would include the officer. Pictures with people always sold best.

She stood in the shadows of the front entrance and prepared to shoot the doorway. The low rumble of a powerful engine stopped her. She turned and saw headlights spearing the night. An expensive convertible braked to a halt at the curb. A man got out. He was not wearing a hat. When she saw his famous profile in the light of the streetlamp she held her breath and retreated deeper into the shadows. Ripley Fleming was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood.

Fleming moved swiftly along the stone walk, the wings of his elegant overcoat whipping around him. He went up the front steps and confronted the officer.

"What the hell is going on? Is Miss Carstairs all right?"

The officer, stunned by the realization that he was speaking to a famous actor, had to try a couple of times before he could string words into a coherent sentence.

"Miss Carstairs is dead, sir," he mumbled.

"Dead?" Ripley said, as if he was not familiar with the word.

"Murdered, sir. They're saying it's the work of the Dagger Killer."

"Murdered," Ripley repeated. He sounded dazed.

He turned to gaze through the partially open door. Vivian knew that from where he stood he could see a portion of the body on the crimson sofa. There was something about his expression that was vaguely familiar. In the glow of the hallway light, Fleming's chiseled features were set in the same dramatic mask of shock that had made for a riveting scene in his last film, Dead End Alley.

And there it was, another golden shot for her camera. A picture of Ripley Fleming's arrival at the scene of the Carstairs murder shortly after the body had been discovered would be worth more than the photo of the dead woman because there were no other photographers around to capture the expression on the actor's face. Exclusive.

Vivian quietly readied her camera. Ripley must have heard her moving in the shadows. He whipped around and saw her. Something akin to panic replaced the horror on his memorable face.

"Please, no," he whispered. "No pictures. I'll pay you—"

She hesitated a second but she knew she had already made the decision. She lowered the camera.

"Forget it," she said. "You don't need to pay me not to take your photo, Mr. Fleming. I'm very sorry about Miss Carstairs."

"Thank you," Fleming said. He hesitated. "I owe you."

"No," she said. "You don't."

He fled down the steps and jumped into his convertible. Tires shrieked when he pulled away from the curb and raced down the street.

"Reckon the rumors in the Hollywood papers are true," the officer mused. "Looks like Mr. Fleming and Miss Carstairs were having an affair. I'd better tell Detective Archer about this."

The cop disappeared inside the house.

Vivian shot the house and hurried back to her car. This was why she was never going to have a great career in photojournalism, she thought. Taking a picture of the body at a crime scene was one thing. Photographing the shocked lover after he had begged her not to take his picture was beyond her. It would have felt wrong, indecent.

She jumped into the speedster and drove quickly down the winding lanes of the ritzy neighborhood and through the quiet streets of the town below. She parked in front of the beach house and hurried inside with her camera.

She headed straight for her darkroom—a converted pantry off the kitchen—grabbed the bottle of developer, and filled up the first tray. Next she prepared the stop bath and finally the fixer tray.

When she had everything ready she turned off the lights, closed the heavy black curtain as an extra precaution against light, and went to work.


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