by Hy Conrad
“Henry Alfonso disappeared from Albuquerque after the mysterious poisoning of his wife three years ago,” said the aging former matinee idol Ronald Stork as he stood before the TV camera, the picturesque Hollywood Reservoir, sycamore and pepper trees to his rear. “Cut,” yelled 25-year-old director Dick Dearhart. “We’re losing the sun.Need some fill. Take five, Mr. Stork.”
The TV show “Unresolved Murders” was often shot here only two miles from its Burbank home offices. The Hollywood Hills passed for Kansas and Idaho, the Rockies and upper New York state, and the travel time saved a bundle.
Producer George Mongrove, 32, was always watching the bottom line. Three days ago, furious that Stork had threatened to walk if his salary wasn’t tripled, the aggressive Mangrove had threatened to replace him with a younger host. Stork said in that case, he’d start up his own show to compete with this one.
Today, in front of the crew, they were both pretending the argument had never happened and were chatting amiably about their golf scores when beautiful 19-year-old caterer Patti Landers arrived with a tray of sandwiches. Stork almost threw up at the thought and waved her off. At least, she thought as she walked away, he isn’t hitting on me for a change.
Mangrove’s writing and producing partner, 30-year-old, pathologically nurturing Theresa Carson, walked up to Stork, who was sweating profusely. “You sure you’re all right?” Makeup man Burt Camfurt was mopping Stork’s beaded brow. “You could use a little more pancake, Mr. Stork.” The mild-mannered Camfurt touched up the pancake as Stork turned to Theresa.
“I’m great,” said Stork, not wanting her to know he was experiencing a burning, tingling sensation, nausea and numbness in his tongue. They could use his illness to break his contract.”Those mega-vitamins you gave me are really working.” He stopped himself from falling. “Better reattach my piece, Burt,” he said. “I don’t know why but it isn’t holding very well today.” “No problem,” the makeup man replied. He added a touch more adhesive under the hairpiece. “You don’t look so well,” said Theresa. She touched her star’s hand. It was cold to the touch.
Theresa went to the coffee cart, poured hot water into a ceramic mug with Stork’s name on it that Patti always kept handy and clean, took a homemade tea bag from her purse, plopped it into the water along with some honey, stirred, and took the concoction back to Stork. “Try some of this, juniper tea, my mother’s recipe. It’ll perk you right up.” Stork sipped on the drink and grimaced at the unexpectedly sharp tang. “Have almonds in it?” he asked. “Must be the juniper berries,” Theresa replied.
“Too hot, Mr. Stork?” asked ambitious 21-year-old production assistant Keith Quintaro. “I’ll put in some cold water.” Keith took the mug briefly to the coffee wagon. Stork downed the liquid but his nausea only worsened.
“Ready,” shouted director Dearhart. Stork resumed his pose. “Roll,” said the director. The camera rolled. “Speed,” yelled the sound mixer. “Action,” yelled the director.
“Henry Alfonso was the much-beloved science teacher and drama coach at Kennedy High,” read Stork right off the cue cards being held up by Keith Quintaro next to the camera. Keith, having overheard the argument earlier in the week between Mangrove and Stork, went up to Mangrove the next morning and proposed that if Stork leaves he should take over as host. He gave Mangrove a demo video he’d prepared at home. Mangrove wanted to laugh in the brash kid’s face but knew he didn’t dare.
“There Alfonso and his students won awards,” said Stork to the camera, “for their theatrical productions, including a much-lauded ‘Cyrano’ in which Alfonso played the title character and a live adaptation of ‘Star Trek: The Beginnings.’ Two days after Alfonso’s wife’s mysterious death, both he and a beautiful 16-year-old female student named Greta Phillips dropped out of sight. It is assumed the teacher and his under-aged student were lovers. For three years the police have found no direct link between the murder and the disappearances but now…we…uh, we…I’m sorry, I…”
“Cut,” yelled director Dearhart as the sun fast sank behind a cloud. “Shit,” muttered a disgusted Mangrove, thinking of the budget overages. “Don’t worry so much,” whispered the perky Theresa into his ear. “Everything’s under control.”
That’s the moment Ronald Stork folded up and dropped to the hard Hollywood Hills ground. Theresa, who had passed her first aid class with flying colors, ran to his rescue. “He’s not breathing,” she shouted. “Give me room!” She gave him mouth-to-mouth while the crew gathered round.
After ten minutes, the paramedics arrived. “What are his chances?” asked Theresa while trying to catch her breath. The lead paramedic shook his head. “Zero to none,” he muttered. “Ronald Stork is dead.”
“Oh, my God!” Theresa cried. Her partner, Mangrove, hid his combination guilt and relief. Only Keith Quintaro uttered a sound — a small “wow!” — as the ambulance pulled away.