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"Shit!" she muttered, and was further humiliated when she realized she'd hit Answer as she'd picked up the phone—and the caller had heard her.
"Hello?" she said frowning. Seven thirty-three. Who was calling this early?
She could hear a soft chuckle, and then someone clearing his throat. "Madison?"
Inwardly, she groaned.
"Yes, Alfie?" Alfie Longdale was her assistant at the studio. She loved the fact that she had an assistant and she loved Alfie. One day, he was going to rule the world, his eye for detail was so exceptional.
"You don't have to come in this morning. In fact, youcan'tcome in."
Her heart seemed to sink to her knees. Had someone suddenly decided she was really a fake? That, despite her training, degree and experience, she was just a kid who played at working on the movies?
Alfie's voice became hushed. "There was a murder last night! In the tunnel. Lord, Madison, Alistair Archer was arrested for murder! Some little starlet he had the hots for—they say her throat was slit from ear to ear. She's dead, Madison. And Eddie Archer's kid is saying that an Egyptian mummy—you know, the priest in the originalSam Stonemovie, amonster—came down from one of the tableaux to commit the bloody carnage!"
Alfie was being dramatic. Hewasdramatic. But right now, what he'd said wasn't registering.
A mummy? A monster? Alfie had to be making it up. Monsters were what they did, what they created, quite frequently. Well, superheroes, giant rats for commercials, cute little pigs and other such creatures. But horror was big; horror movies could be reasonable in cost and make massive amounts of money.
"Alfie, is this—"
"No! It is not some kind of joke. It is not a movie script. Madison, it's real. A woman was killed inourtunnel. Anyway, the crime scene units are there today, and Eddie Archer's closed the entire place.No onegoes in until the police have finished with the tunnel, the security tapes, the studio—you name it. Anyway, I was up last night when it all hit the news. And Eddie Archer looked white—I mean, white as a ghost!—when they showed him on film. He said he wants the police to have complete access toeverythingbecause he's going to find out what really happened—his son is not a murderer!"
Alfie was telling the truth. As shocking as it was, she knew he was telling the truth.
Madison felt her heart break for Eddie Archer. He was such a good man.
Alistair was a good kid, too. Could he have snapped and killed someone?
She couldn't accept that. He was too nice and decent, even shy.
"A monster," she repeated. "You mean—the Egyptian priest, the killer fromSam Stone and the Curious Case of the Egyptian Museum?"
"Exactly! Is that movie stuff or what? Everyone suspectsThe Unholyis a remake of that movie, but most people don't know for sure. And now, right in front of that tableau…a real murder! Anyway, I thought I'd call because if you show up at work, you'll be sent home. This way, you might be able to get some more sleep."
Madison wrinkled her face at the phone, as if she could convey her expression to Alfie. What? Go back to sleepnow?
"Thanks, Alfie. Thanks for letting me know. I'm sure I'll get tons of extra sleep."
"Keep me posted if you hear more," Alfie said. He seemed not to notice her sarcasm.
"Ditto," she said, and ended the call.
She crawled out of bed, drawing an indignant meow from Ichabod, curled up at the foot of the bed. "Sorry, my friend," she told the cat, hurrying out to the parlor of her old rented bungalow and switching on the TV, going from channel to channel until she found a news station covering the murder.
The information Alfie had given her was true. The news showed the crime tape blocking off the cinema and the studio, then cut to an earlier interview with Eddie Archer in front of the courthouse. He denied his son's culpability, and swore that he'd learn the truth behind the shocking murder.
Mike Greenwood, creative head of the studio and Madison's supervisor, stood beside him. When Eddie finished speaking, Mike stepped up to the microphone. He reasserted what Eddie had said, that the truth would be discovered and, while Alistair had been arraigned for the murder, the D.A.'s office had acted only on whatappearedto be the case—not what was. They would work toward his release, and by the middle or end of the week, when the police had gone over every inch of the place, Archer's Wizardry and Effects would be back in business. They would move forward with their various projects while the investigation continued. Mike spoke so earnestly, he silenced the spate of questions that should have arisen. He seemed concerned, but in control.
Mike was a steady man, excellent in stressful situations. Whenever they were on a tight deadline, Mike was the one who calmed down everyone at the studio, assuring them that, step by step, they'd get it all done.
Eddie had acted with his usual composure, but Madison felt so sorry for him.
Eddie, nearing fifty, was still fit, but his face bore the tension of sorrow. As Alfie had said, he looked white as a sheet. He'd run his fingers through his graying hair repeatedly as he spoke, his words calm but determined.
She was still staring at the TV in disbelief when her phone rang again. She'd left it in the bedroom, and raced to retrieve it, thinking it would be Mike Greenwood giving her the message that Alfie had already conveyed.
Her "Hello?" was breathless.
The caller wasn't Mike Greenwood. It was Eddie Archer himself.
"Eddie!" she said. "Oh, Eddie, I'm so sorry."
"Then you've heard."
"Alistair didn't do it."
"I believe that, Eddie. With my whole heart."
"Thank you." He was quiet.
"I heard not to come in, Eddie," Madison said. "Alfie called me."
"Actually, Madison, I do want you to come in. I have a friend arriving—a film effects artist I worked with years ago. He's a member of the FBI now, and he's going to handle a special investigation for me. I'd like you to meet with him, show him around the studio."
"I—I thought it was closed down, other than for the police?" FBI? How had he gotten the FBI involved? She wasn't savvy about law enforcement, but she'd always assumed the FBI only came in for serial killers or kidnapping or crimes that spanned several states.
And how the hell did a special-effects artist wind up in the FBI?
And, oh, God, why had Eddie chosen her?
She knew exactly why Eddie had chosen her. He'd never challenged her, he'd never forced her into a corner over this. But he believed—had reason to believe—that she talked to the dead.
"The police closed the Black Box Cinema. ButIclosed the studio. And Sean—Sean Cameron—won't be here until this afternoon. I just talked to him in the wee hours of the morning and he's coming from Virginia. I'm picking him up myself, so I'll swing by for you after I've collected him from LAX. If that's all right with you."
Madison exhaled on a long breath. The man she had hero-worshipped for his artistry throughout her formative years was asking for her help. The same man who'd hired her and opened up a world that she'd only dreamed of knowing.
"Eddie, I would do anything for you," she assured him humbly. "And for Alistair."
"Thank you. I think you're the right person to work with Sean. And I deeply appreciate your friendship—for Alistair and me. You can expect me around five."
"Of course," she murmured lamely.
Eddie wasn't ready to hang up. "Alistair didn't do it—he really didn't." He was quiet for a minute. "He told me that the Egyptian priest, Amun Mopat, came down from theSam Stonetableau, and killed her. Alistair tried to reach Jenny, but slipped in the blood, conked himself out…and then came to and saw it was real—he was lying in a pool of blood. I guess it's normal for the police to think that either he's crazy or his story is and that he's going to try for an insanity plea. But I know my son. I know he didn't do it. And only someone who's familiar with the studio can prove he didn't."
"We're in Hollywood—a place filled with actors and effects," Madison said.
"Yeah," Eddie agreed, sounding bitter. "But, oddly enough, I believe we're the only ones who see the possibility that Alistair didn't do it. Anyway, Madison, I'll be by for you. If you're sure you don't mind."
"I'm happy to show your guy around the museum, Eddie."
Eddie Archer ended the call. Madison sank down into her art deco-style sofa, setting her phone on the coffee table in front of it.
Madison nearly leaped a mile into the air at the sound of the voice. Her hand fluttered to her throat; her heart thudded.
She turned and saw the man who'd spoken, standing just behind her.
The voice was soft. The man was slight, with dark graying hair and a wonderful face filled with character.
She let out a breath. Her sometime-resident "invisible" friend—whether extension of her imagination or real ghost—was seated on the arm of the sofa, looking at her sorrowfully.
"You all right, kid?"
She let out a breath, realizing that the very concept of someone being murdered where she worked was terrifying.
"Yeah. It would help if you didn't startle me like that."
"I spoke quietly. And I'm not exactly a surprise now, Madison, am I?"
No, not anymore.
She could see him plain as day, as if he were flesh and blood, a good friend who'd stopped by in a time of need. He had a fascinating, ruggedly masculine face—including his slightly scarred lip—and a lean, slight form. When he stood, he was on the short side at only five feet eight inches.
"Um, I'm fine. I'm just stunned," Madison said. Then she rushed into words, well aware of how ridiculous she'd look if anyone else was there—because she saw Humphrey Bogart as he sat in her living room. "I don't know how much you hear or fathom from phone conversations, but there was a murder at the studio last night. A starlet who was with Alistair Archer. I can't believe he killed her. Iwon'tbelieve it—not Alistair. Eddie must be beside himself, desperate to help him. He's such a loving father."
"Watching a child suffer is a hard thing," Bogie said, his voice low and slightly nasal.
Madison stared at him.Washe an imaginary friend? She would never be sure. She'd had strange experiences as a child. She'd tried chalking them up to growing pains, teenage angst and, as her parents had suggested, an overactive imagination—the kind that had led her right into a career. She'd also had experiences that had broken her heart—and might be part of the reason she embraced her work, day in and day out.
Bogie hadn't come with the bungalow, though he'd lived there briefly in the 1920s. He'd told her once that he had loved it and loved living there. She'd first met him at the wax museum when she was a college student; she'd assumed he was a lookalike actor hired to play the part. They'd spoken and laughed together..
And he'd followed her home.
Bogie showed up whenever he wanted to. Apparently he had other places to haunt, as well. Madison simply accepted him as a friend—imaginary though he might be. Sometimes she thought she was crazy; sometimes she thought she was incredibly lucky that such a man had chosenherto haunt. Although she believed that now, she hadn't always. He'd scared her to death at first, and had occasionally made her life hell.
He'd just startled her today; the first night she'd seen him sitting on her sofa, however, he'd practically given her a heart attack. She'd fumbled to call the police, and they'd come and almost arrested her, assuming she was another college kid trying to make trouble. Bogie had been apologetic and courteous—so sorry for causing her distress. He was what he was, and he'd tried to explain, but she hadn't believed him.
Maybe hewasimaginary, but she didn't know what part of her mind triggered his appearances.
And if he was, what about the other dead people who 'd spoken to her?
But imaginary or not, he was there for her now.
"Have some coffee, kid. That'll make you feel better."
"I'm not sure it will help me feel better. But at least it'll wake me up."
"What are you waking up for? You could go back to sleep."
"Why is it that everyone thinks I can sleepnow?"she muttered.
Bogie ignored that, standing and stretching as he gazed out the windows. He turned to look at her. "The murder took place in the studio?" he asked.
She shook her head. "The underground tunnel between the Black Box Cinema and the studio—where Archer has his film noir museum."
"Interesting," Bogie mused. "By which display?"
Madison frowned. "The news didn't say, but Alfie told me it was by the tableau forSam Stone and the Curious Case of the Egyptian Museum.Sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean, especially since the studio is now in lockdown because ofThe Unholy—theSam Stoneremake."