Mystery Paperback Della Borton Fade to Black

ISBN 13: 9780449004074

Fade to Black

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9780449004074: Fade to Black

INTRODUCING GILDA LIBERTY AND HER ECCENTRIC MOVIE-MAD FAMILY . . .

If the cameras had been rolling when eighty-two-year-old film legend Mae Liberty ascended to that big movie studio in the sky, she would have won her second Oscar. After all, her dying word was "Rosebud." But now her funeral in Hollywood is drawing raves--not to mention the threat of blackmail, a case of arson, and an uninvited corpse.

On the scene are Mae's infamously eclipsed twin sister, three generations of the loony Liberty lineage, and her niece Gilda--the sole voice of reason in this odd acting dynasty. Gilda left Tinseltown years ago, hoping never to return. Now she has become the reluctant heir to a crumbling legacy: the Paradise, a once-opulent movie palace that has preserved not only Mae's memories--but her secrets as well. With the aid of a seasoned private eye, Gilda soon discovers a tangled family plot hidden in every frame of Mae's illustrious past. And scene by scene, it's unreeling toward a fatal . . .

FADE TO BLACK

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About the Author:

Della Borton is a pseudonym for Lynette Carpenter, professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she also teaches a film course.  As D. B. Borton, she is the author of the Cat Caliban mystery series.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"She didn't!"

"She did!"

"You're making it up!"

"I'm not!"

I looked at my sister. I had found Betty, whose real name was Lauren, after Lauren "Betty" Bacall, in the last booth at Oscar's. Oscar's was an Eden institution that had been so named out of deference to my family by its former owner, who had apparently failed to notice how few Academy Awards we'd actually managed to collect. Betty had one hand wrapped around a mug of beer.

"'Rosebud'? She said 'rosebud'?"

"The nurse heard her," Betty said. "The nurse was very definite, on account of Maesie was screaming, she said."

"Whatever happened to 'Give them champagne, and be gay--be very, very gay'?"

"Dark Victory? Oh, God, that was ages ago! Is that the last time you were home? She's been through a million others since then."

"But she didn't even approve of Citizen Kane!" I objected. "I mean, when she finally saw it, she admitted it was a great movie, but she never approved of what it did to Marion Davies."

"Actually, the last I heard it was going to be Camille," Betty said. "She always did like that movie, even after...you know. Adele did over her room in all these godawful flounces and enough quilting to crash-land a space shuttle, and we'd hear Maesie in there, rehearsing."

Some people spend years planning their funerals. Maesie had spent years planning her death. She had intended to script her deathbed scene with the meticulous care of Hitchcock, but without the macabre sense of humor. She would scour classic movies to find just the right exit line, rehearse her latest favorite as diligently as an ingenue, then abruptly discard it when she happened on a new favorite. And no matter how extravagant her enthusiasm for the newest candidate, she would soon be assailed by doubts, her loyalty would wane, and her script would appear among the kindling in the fireplace.

Adele was her partner in crime. Adele had once been a set designer at Paramount, after which she had retired to Eden with Wallace to run a hotel, The Studio Inn. The inn had provided her with a new stage on which to exhibit her talents ("Every Room a Different Set, and Every Guest a Star!"), but there was a financial limit to how many times twenty rooms could be redecorated, so Adele's services had always been available to her relatives. Now that her daughter, Greer, owned the place and her own role had declined to that of consultant, Adele had even more time on her hands. For Maesie, she had designed a whole series of bedrooms of varying styles and motifs.

"The thing is," Adele would confide to other family members, "Mae just can't decide who she wants to be when she dies."

Now Mae had died, and she hadn't been anyone she wanted to be at all.

"Oliver used to joke that she ought to say 'Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.' But Camille! I ask you! Maesie, for all that went wrong in her life, was hardly the suffering martyr type, now, was she? But 'rosebud'? It's so ..."

"Clichéd?" I prompted. "Obvious?"

"Well, clichés have never been a problem in our family, have they? I mean, we'd just as soon beat a dead horse as a live one any day of the week."

This from an animal lover and animal-rights activist who would never beat any horse, alive or dead. My sister had always collected animals the way dirt collects dandelions. She'd spent a brief time as an animal trainer on a ranch outside of Los Angeles, and her animals had appeared in several films on which she'd worked as a wrangler. But in the end her standards had been higher than the Humane Society's and to make a long story short, she'd ended up picketing a picture she was supposed to work on. She'd moved to Eden, married a genial veterinarian, and the two of them now ran a kind of private animal shelter on a farm outside of town.

"So why did she say it?" I asked. "What did she mean?"

Betty hunched closer. "Wouldn't you just love to find out?"

I stared at her. "No. Oh, no," I said. "I'm not that curious."

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course you are. We all are. Why not?"

"Because every time I come home I feel like I've walked into the middle of some cheesy B movie. At dinner it was a melodrama, starring me and Liz. Jesus, Betty, can't they get some new writers? It was the same damn script they used for my divorce."

"They don't write dialogue like that anymore," my sister said in the sententious voice of a true Liberty.

"Thank God!"

"No, but seriously, Gilda ..." She shifted. "She was reading something when she died."

"What?"

"Nobody knows."

"What do you mean, nobody knows?" I was interested in spite of myself.

"Just that. Nobody knows. The nurse found them on the floor--a bunch of papers, maybe some letters, and a file folder."

"Probably her investment reports."

Betty shook her head. "The nurse said it looked more like a bunch of letters than bank statements. But she didn't pay that much attention. She just picked them up off the floor and put them on the desk."

"And then what?"

"Nobody knows." Betty waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "Nobody's been able to find whatever she was reading when she died."

"And we should care because ...?"

"Because of 'rosebud.' Because she must have been reading something that made her say that, and maybe something that upset her so much, it killed her."

"She had a bad heart, Betts," I pointed out. "She'd already had one heart attack. It wouldn't have taken much."

"Yeah, but why that word? Aren't you curious? Remember all those Nancy Drew books we had as kids? The ones where Nancy was always snooping around in abandoned houses?"

"Am I missing something? What we have in our family are not abandoned houses but overpopulated ones."

She shrugged. "Yeah, but still. I just think it would be fun to investigate."

"It'll probably turn out to be a very simple thing," I said with a straight face.

Betty stuck her finger down her throat and made gagging noises.

I reached into my breast pocket for a pack of cigarettes, ignored Betty's glare, and lit up.

"I thought you quit," she said.

"I did. Several times."

"Gilda--"

I rolled my eyes at her and inhaled deeply.

"Okay, I'm sorry." Betty looked mildly contrite. "I know you've already gotten an earful about Liz. But seriously, Gilda. Are you okay?"

"More or less," I lied. "One good thing about being home is that our relatives drive me to distraction, immediate family included, and what I'm being distracted from is thinking about me and Liz."

She squeezed my hand. "In that case, you're in luck," she said. "Maesie's funeral gives them all the opportunity to turn in the performance of their lives."

"I can't believe she said 'rosebud,'" I repeated.

"Yeah. God, if she'd known that was going to be her last word--"

We finished the line together. "She would have died."

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