'The Wrong Shot'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— In the 1930's Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 32, and Kelly Humber, 30, are lovers and actors contracted to Redoubtable Films Inc; a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York, which they also have shares in. They have recently moved across to the production side of the company's affairs, no longer themselves appearing in the films.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters, certain film companies, and film titles, in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real companies, or real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.

—O—

It was June 1936, and Redoubtable Studios, one of those low-class low expence, low pay 'B' movie company's, had finally dragged itself into the modern age. Buddie Brannigan, the 28 year old main producer in the company, had at last argued some sense into the money-men behind the company's finances, and also into the rough and tumble group of bank managers, lawyers, business-men, and investors with more money than sense, who generally bank-rolled the company's output. He had also managed to persuade two of Redoubtable's main stars, Stephanie Garroch and Kelly Humber, to switch to production duties thereby taking some of the strain from his own shoulders.

Redoubtable's core product—short Westerns, Crime and Thriller movies, and that staple of Poverty Row, Adventure Serials—had all been comprehensively overhauled. The serials had been junked entirely, to no-one's distress or regret, they being damned difficult things to keep on top of. The Crime and Thriller genres had been replaced by a single General Crime genre, established in the East Coast New York studio. Westerns stayed in Hollywood, but had been upgraded to main features only; and Redoubtable was playing with the idea of Romantic Comedies, also to be made in Hollywood.

To give them an easy entry into the production side of affairs Stephanie and Kelly were at the moment out at the Triple Triangle Ranch just south of Hollywood where Redoubtable's main outdoor sets and general estate used for shooting exteriors lay. The film currently in production, four days into filming, was one of the first of the company's large-scale Westerns—'The Hummingbird Lode'.

While filming was going on outside the women were comfortably ensconced inside the ranch building itself, which was four-square and fitted out internally as a set of offices; the internal shots of the ranch-house, for any movie, being laid in sets back at the main studio in town.

"This production lay's harder than bein' on set an' acting." Kelly making her views known as she and her loved partner sat at a table in the main room. "All this dam' paperwork. Who needs all these dam' accounts, anyway? In dam' triplicate, as well—I ask you?"

"Stop complainin', an' get on with it—these accounts have t'be ready fer Garry to drive back t'town with 'em at lunch-time. Two hours from now." Stephanie taking the realistic view of matters, chewing on a pencil the while. "It says on this blue form coffee an' sandwiches, an' whatever, are provided by Redoubtable's commissary; but on this pink form it says foodstuffs are sourced from Karnstein and Farley, caterers. And the sums involved seem t'be the same—who's right?"

"Jeez, don't ask me—do I look as if I care, darlin'? I got my own worries right now."

But it was harder than this to stop Stephanie when she was on a roll.

"Another thing—"

"—Oh God,—"

"—this dam' Hays Office ain't helpin' matters along any."

Kelly's interest was piqued by this remark.

"Hays Office? Oh, them, don't take any note o'them; they'll disappear in'ta the woodwork in a year or so; then we can get on with makin' movies the way we want."

"Glad ya think so, ducks."

"Two more years tops, doll." Kelly taking no prisoners on this topic. "What year's it now? 'Thirty-six, right. 'Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, they'll be history, an' we'll have the whole place to ourselves; no more crotchety criticism, take my word for it."

"Har."

—O—

The quiet aura within the main room of the ranch-house—that of a pair of accountants at one with their work and on top of all eventualities, or so they liked to think—was broken with shocking informality by the front door crashing open to reveal a disheveled young man in his late teens, dressed in check shirt and scruffy jeans.

"Jee-sus, it's Tom Brookes—Tom Brookes's been shot!"

Both old hands in the movie business, neither Stephanie nor Kelly were much disturbed by this disjointed piece of news; after all, all kinds of weird things happened on a movie set.

"Hold hard, an' catch yer breath." Kelly rising to walk over to the gasping teenager. "When you say 'shot', what exactly d'ya mean? Shot, as in shot; or jest shot in a manner o'speakin', as it might be?"

"What Kel's tryin' t'establish, young 'un is, were bullets involved in this here fracas, at all?" Stephanie cutting to the heart of the problem.

The youngster, by now not quite sure what was reality and what simple play-acting, shook his head to clear his mind, then repeated his news more steadily.

"I was out behind the camera, alongside Mr. Lombard, the director." He ran a hand through his thick brown hair. "The scene was Brookes' facin'-off the baddie, Carter Graham. They both pulled their pieces t'gether, there was the usual bangs an' clouds o'smoke, an' Brookes fell t'the ground, blood seepin' from his shirt—shot, in the chest—by a real bullet."

By this time Stephanie had joined the two at the open door.

"Right, let's get over there, fast as we can." She stopped as the youngster went back out. "No, hold on a minute, we better call the doctor at once, get him over here fast with an ambulance. What's their number, again, ducks?"

"It's in my notebook, gim'me a minute." Kelly returning to the table.

"Hey, youngster, what's yer name?" Stephanie calling to the lad waiting on the porch.

"Frank, ma'am, Frank Schilbach."

"Got'cha. Jest wait a moment, we'll be right behind ya." She turned back to the interior of the room again. "How's it goin'?"

"Got it. I'll ring 'em now. You two go on out t'the set. Take the First Aid box, lover; it's on the table by the door, see?"

"OK, got it, see ya later. Come on, Frank, let's get t'the scene o'the crime."

—O—

The place where the accident had occurred was not a set as such, just a clearing in the low scrub that had been picked more or less at random for one of the film's dramatic crescendos—that of the goodie, Tom Brookes, standing-off the attack of one of the baddies, played by Carter Graham. At the moment, as Stephanie and Frank arrived, the area was awash with a milling crowd; George Lombard, the director; Alan Wainewright, the Front Office representative; a man called Heikenberg, embodying the now all-powerful Hayes Office; and a throng of technicians standing in groups eye-balling the interesting scene as it unfolded.

"What happened?" Stephanie putting a hand on Lombard's arm as she came up.

"Dam' fool armorer must'a put real bullets in Graham's pistol." Lombard was a fortyish, slightly thick-set, forthright character. "See fer yerself, there Brookes' lies, pumpin' blood as we speaks."

One of the multitude of technicians, a young black-haired man with an intelligent look to him, had taken the first appropriate measures necessary—ripping the still unconscious Brookes' shirt to reveal his blood covered chest. He was using some torn pieces of cloth to try to wipe this mess clear, in order to see what the actual wound looked like. As Stephanie stepped forward with her small first-aid box he had just made some progress.

"Ah, hi, ma'am, yeah that's jest what's needed." He spoke in a calm tone, clearly not suffering from shock or that immobility to act usefully that most of the surrounding spectators were showing. "That roll of bandages, an' that disinfectant, great. Lem'me see, now."

A few minutes went by remarkably quickly; the young man working on the injured actor like a professional; Lombard getting most of those around to at least move further away; and Kelly arriving with the news that the doctor and ambulance were on their way.

"But they won't be here for, oh, another half hour at least."

"That's fine, Kel, things is under control, somewhat." Stephanie still intent on the man crouching over Brookes. "I think this guy here's makin' progress. Don't think Brookes's wound's as bad as it might'a been."

As she spoke the man sat back, still crouching by the actor's side.

"That's so, ma'am." He had a cultured accent, obviously a step above the ordinary blue-collar worker. "See there, that dark circle? The bullet-hole. Hit him high on the chest, on the right shoulder; you can see the exit wound under his armpit, a bit messier, but not too bad. I've stopped the blood, tied the wound closed with those clips from the aid-kit. Should do till the medics arrive. He ain't gon'na die, I'm sure. What you might call a flesh wound, in fact, if'n it didn't look so awful. I'm just gon'na wrap this bandage loosely, till the doc arrives, OK?"

"He's unconscious, why's that?" Kelly looking down at the supine form.

"Hit his head on that small rock there, see?" The young man pointed with a blood-stained hand. "Just a thump on the head, no sign of fractures or anything like that. When he wakes up he'll have a dam' big headache, over an' above the bullet wound, o'course. But not life threatening."

"Glad ye were here t'act prompt, young man." Lombard giving him a hand to rise.

"Yeah, you did fantastic, glad you were here t'help out." Stephanie giving him a close look. "What's your name?"

"Daniel Nalland." The young man ran fingers through his hair and breathed deeply. "I'm just working part-time as a movie tech.; I'm goin' through medical school at the moment—every dollar helps."

"Ah, dam' lucky for us." Kelly nodding her own approval. "What can we do for him now?"

Daniel glanced down at his patient with a professional eye.

"He's more or less stable; the wound ain't as bad as it looks. He's unconscious some, certainly, but that's just a side-issue, not life threatenin'. He didn't actually lose much in the way of blood, much as it might seem otherwise. Blood, in quantities, having the capability of making things seem much worse than things actually is, most of the time."

Kelly took another look at the still blood-soaked form lying quiescent in the dust at their feet, wrinkling her nose at the sight.

"Well, if this ain't bad, as ye tells us, it'll certainly do till something bad does turn up."

"Uurth." Stephanie wordlessly agreeing with her lover.

—O—

Brookes', now conscious and complaining extensively, had been shipped to hospital by ambulance; the doctor who had accompanied it praising the young medical student's efforts and affirming the wound was not of a serious nature, sight notwithstanding; and now, in the ranch-house, a post-mortem on the incident was taking place—the time now being late afternoon, and the filming having been shut down for the day.

Present were George Lombard, director; Stephanie and Kelly; Alan Wainewright, from the accountancy department of Redoubtable; and Karl Heikenberg, representative of the feared Hayes Office, presently not a happy one; and Henry Campbell, armorer for the film, looking crestfallen as all get-out.

"—is all I'm sayin'." Lombard trying to make clearer the circumstances of the incident. "There weren't any malice behind the dam' thing—was there, Harry?"

"Dam' straight, Mr Lombard." Henry tense as a frightened deer. "I get those duds,—blanks, that is—from Mayerling's in Hollywood. They supplying all the main Companies with such. They come in ammo boxes, jest like the real thing, but marked sharp an' clear as bein' blanks."

"Can ya tell, from looking at 'em as ya load a weapon—that they're blanks, I mean?" Stephanie fishing for hard facts.

"Oh yes, ma'am." Henry nodding like a child's toy at this opportunity to clarify the position. "They has nipped-in tops—that is, where the bullet gen'rly is, the cartridge case's pinched half-closed; the powder bein' enclosed in a paper container, sealed at its top. Y'can't mistake a blank cartridge fer the real thing, ma'am; or the other way round."

"Someone obviously did just that—you?" Heikenberg letting everyone know the way he intended to go on.

"Now here, wait jes'—"

Kelly, till now quiet, pondering on the situation on her own account, here sprang to life, and the defence of her employees.

"Mr Heikenberg, perhaps we better get the lay-out of this here conference clear in our heads." She pinned the tallish sharp-featured man with a steely gaze. "We want t'establish facts, not criticise or hunt for dupes. We ain't the Law; neither are you, Mr Heikenberg: so give the harsh tone a rest, will ya?"

"Seems someone round these parts out to be taking the High Road." Heikenberg obviously in no way cowed. "There's been what amounts to a felony—at least a crime of some sort. You're not, here round this table, thinking of covering this distasteful incident up, are you? Shuffling it under the nearest carpet, and pretending it was simply an industrial accident, or something of the kind? The police ought to be called, you know. Perhaps I ought to take a few minutes from this conversation and do just that very thing—to keep matters on the straight and narrow, you understand."

Stephanie here took the chance to clarify matters for the Hayes Office man.

"Mr Heikenberg, Kelly covered that point hours ago, when she first called fer the ambulance." She raised a disappointed eyebrow in the direction of the man. "The Sheriff'll be arriving shortly; what we want before that is to get the facts out in the open; get things straight, so's we can tell the officer what actually happened. You're not helping in that direction, at all."

"Huumph."

"So, Mr Campbell, you loaded the weapon, didn't you?" Kelly bringing the discussion back on track.

"—er, yeah."

"How do you suppose it happened, then?" Kelly trying to look and sound as non-aggressive as possible. "How exactly do you load these pistols, ordinarily?"

Everyone at the table leaned forward, intent on the armorer's answer.

"Well, y'see, this has t'do with the movie itself—"

"How so?" From Kelly, becoming more than somewhat interested.

"The movie, as you all know, is set in Alabama in nineteen o'four." Henry shuffling in his chair as he came to the point. "So, as per the Director's, an' the Producer's—an', indeed, the script's—instructions we were using a particular weapon, fer authenticities' sake—"

"Which was?" Stephanie entering the fray, though she already knew part of the answer, as did Kelly.

"—a Nagant M Eighteen-ninety-five revolver." Here, deep in technicalities, Henry relaxed a trifle. "It's a seven-shot gas-seal weapon, with a particular sort of ammo. They, the cartridges, look somewhat similar to certain types of blank ammo—you can't see the bullet protruding from the end of the cartridge case, y'see."

"But how did a real cartridge get mixed in with the supposedly blank cartridge ammo box?" Heikenberg making a competent return to proceedings. "Thought you said blanks had sealed paper cartridge containers for the powder? Surely recognisably different from the real thing?"

"Blanks don't come as one general unified norm." Henry addressing this question with some enthusiasm, as it bore on the heart of the matter. "Each calibre has to have its own blank cartridges made to order. So these cartridges, for the Nagant M Eighteen-ninety-five, resembled the original real ammo for the weapon."

"Why is that significant?" Stephanie centreing on the important point.

"Nagant M Eighteen-ninety-five's have a curious cartridge, ma'am." Henry paused to order his thoughts. "Because it's a gas-seal weapon—"

"Meaning, what?" Kelly, not being happy with firearms at the best of times, here showing her innate curiosity.

Henry nodded, facing Kelly like a school teacher ready and willing to impart knowledge.

"As you know, the cylinder of a revolver has a space between it and the start of the barrel proper." He smiled as he covered this well-known detail. "When fired lots of smoke ejects through this space; and, o'course, you can't suppress a revolver—at least, not most kinds—"

"Suppress?" From Heikenberg, clearly not any kind of an expert.

"Use a silencer." Kelly jumping in to show what she did know on the topic. "Y'can only really silence automatics; put a silencer on a revolver barrel, an' it'll still go off with an almighty big bang."

"Jes' so, ma'am—but not the Nagant." Henry nodding in agreement with Kelly. "When it's cocked the cylinder travels forward automatically to seal the space between it and the barrel end. So when it's fired, no smoke ejects through that space and a silencer can be used to some effect."

"Aren't we gettin' a trifle off-topic here?" Lombard stepping in with a point of order. "Silencers or not, what about the bloody ammo? Why'd the real bullet pass muster with you, Mr Campbell?"

"Nagants don't use ordinary calibre bullets, Mr Lombard; they have their own, custom-made calibre." He stuck a hand in his jacket pocket and released a handful of cartridges onto the table, passing them round to the assembled spectators. "Here, y'see, everyone take one. Got 'em, right. You see, the bullet doesn't raise itself above the end of the cartridge case, like almost all other ordinary bullets. That's because of the need for the gas seal when firing. The lengthened end of the cartridge case enters the opening of the pistol barrel when being fired—thus contributing to the gas seal, y'see."

Even Heikenberg could see, examining the curious cartridges before him, where this was heading.

"With the necessarily extended neck of the cartridge, the blanks look almost identical to the real bullets—dam'."

"So, when whoever loaded the ammo box with our ration of blanks, back at Mayerling's, they allowed at least one real cartridge to get through the checks?" Stephanie now au fait with the problem.

"Makes you wonder if it was the only one." Kelly here considering a detail of some importance. "If one real cartridge got through, maybe there's others yet lurking in the ammo box you're usin', Mr Campbell?"

"How many cartridges in your particular example?" Stephanie considering the wider implications. "We don't wan'na be carryin' on with the movie with more live ammo hidin' in the shadows."

"Two hundred cartridges in the box, ma'am; of which perhaps thirty've been used so far."

"Hmm, think we better quarantine that ammo-box for the duration, eh?" Kelly taking note of the safety aspects involved. "Not but what the Sheriff'll do the same, when he eventually turns up."

Stephanie stood, peremptorily making it known the conference was over.

"At least I fancy we can say the accident wasn't down to incompetence; the blank and real cartridges bein' so hard to differentiate, it seems." She turned to the Hayes Office representative enquiringly. "You'll agree, I assume, Mr Heikenberg?"

For the last minute Heikenberg had been twirling one of the blank Nagant cartridges in his fingers, examining it closely; now he returned Stephanie's gaze with a sigh.

"Yeah, looks like a complete accident, t'me too. These dam' strange cartridges seem t'have been designed jest particularly for this sort'a mistake t'take place. Perhaps you ought'a think about changin' the script, an' givin' Mr Graham a more suitable, if ordinary, weapon—one for which the blanks are more easily recognisable?"

"I think we can all agree on that change in plans?" Kelly glanced round the table seeking agreement. "Yeah? Right, well, that's that, till the Sheriff appears—wonder what's happened t'him, by the way—seems hours late, hi-ho."

—O—

The Sheriff of Pontas County, southern California, Earl Dallington Cornford, was a man of rare intellect; he proudly acknowledging the only books he had read in the last fifteen years were the Police Manual and State Edicts and By-laws. For Literature, with a capital L, he had no time whatever; the only good author in his eyes, he often made known to all and sundry, was one on the cutting edge of a Drink Driving and/or Speeding ticket.

To find himself called out to attend an incident involving firearms on a film set was as manna from Heaven to him; he disliking actors, and all associated activities, almost as much as the literary lions and lionesses infesting his personal county.

"Dearly hopes it ain't one o'those female actresses." He told the deputy sitting by his side as he drove his state-issue 1936 four-door Plymouth sedan on the way to the scene of the crime. "Them kind'a women allus has a way o'turnin' on the tears, like as if Niagara was overflowin' in a Spring storm."

The deputy, knowing his boss inside out, kept a discreet silence.

"If it be a man well, I kin give myself free rein, so ter speak." Cornford already convinced of most of what had gone on at the film set. "These immoral types—actors, an' the same o'the other sex—can't keep on the level, no-ways. Give 'em any sort'a chance an' it's all snow an' beer an' the numbers racket like ter bein' Christmas every dam' day o'the year."

The deputy, he quietly playing the long game and waiting for the transfer to Los Angeles he had put in for three months since, remained politically silent.

"So, when we arrive at this here film set-up what I wants is—"

Bang.

"Christ! What the—dam', a blow-out. Right Parker, spares' in the boot, get movin', we ain't got all dam' day—still ten mile ter go, yet."

—O—

When Cornford arrived at the Triple Triangle ranch, more than an hour late, he was met by a welcoming committee which had been given ample time to get its story straight; even Heikenberg acknowledging the necessity to keep calm and carry on without making things worse.

Cornford, on listening to the general outline of the incident with only half an ear, had peremptorily taken matters into his own hands, with all due authority of his position—and so made instant enemies of everyone else present in the ranch-house main room.

"No, you can't arrest Carter Graham for first degree homicide, Sheriff." Stephanie coming the Valkyrie over such jobsworthy incompetence as of duty bound. "What in Hell makes you think that? It was a dam' accident; just a mix-up between real and blank cartridges, is all. Any fool can see that. What's wanted is an organisational answer; not clapping someone in irons an' leadin' them off t'the hoosegow, no arguments accepted."

"Madam, I have rules an' regulations, an' laws, to take note of." Cornford unhappily facing just the type of local opposition he had feared would be the case. "Graham shot this actor, what's-his-name, so Graham goes ter jail,—simple. The details can then be ironed out judicially at a later date; that's when the county defence lawyer steps in, y'see. Why, Graham might well be out again, pollutin' the scenery, in two or three hours after bein' brought up in front o'Judge Andrews—he allus givin' bail at the dam' drop of a hat. That's how these things goes, lady; it's called due process."

Heikenberg, curiously, was first to stand against this outrageous assessment of the law.

"If he, Graham, were a suspect, or perp, yeah, by all means." He pinned the uncomfortable Sheriff with a cold eye. "But no crime's been committed here, only an accident. Graham didn't shoot Tom Brookes deliberately; he didn't, at any point in the day, have access to the ammunition used, so couldn't have replaced a blank with a real bullet; even supposing he could'a found a Nagant M Eighteen-ninety-five cartridge anywhere—they not growing on trees, y'know."

"What in Hell's a Nagant?"

This question having been asked Cornford, very much against his will, was taken to see, and listen to, Henry Campbell expostulating at length on the subject of the esoteric firearm at the heart of the incident. Finally, half an hour later, and at the furthest end of his tether, Cornford admitted defeat.

"OK, OK, I see where y'all're comin' from. Dam' Nagant revolvers; who was the twisted moron who invented the dam' things, anyway?" The Sheriff standing by his Plymouth, obviously anxious to make his escape, like Dillinger but for different reasons. "OK, I'll write the dam' thing off as an accident; just make sure those new rules y'told me about are gon'na come in'ta play quicker than not, is all. I'll be back in a week, ter see what's new an'—an'—well, whatever new's happened—an' it better of have, too, is all I got'ta say on the matter. G'day t'you all."

—O—

It was evening at the Triple Triangle ranch; the clear dark sky was purfled o'er with a field of bright silver stars; a light breeze disturbed the leaves on the cottonwoods; and, inside the ranch-house, the last conference of the day was in full swing.

"Nobody told me making movies was gon'na be so much dam' trouble." Kelly letting rip from the deepest depth of her disgust on the matter. "Shootin' accidents; one of our stars barely missin' bein' had up fer murder; the movie almost shut down; God knows how much we've already lost expence-wise, or will, as a result of havin' to wait on Brookes's return from hospital. It's all a g-dd-m nightmare."

A pause, silent but in no way peaceful, lay gently over the assembled inmates; then Lombard had a thought.

"Whose idee, anyway, was it t'use that dam' Nagant, instead of a perfectly respectable Smith an' Wesson point thirty-eight?"

Allan Wainewright, not much of a contributor to the play so far, here thought fit to step in.

"The writer, Constance Thompson." He shrugged his shoulders, remembering past experiences. "Maybe you lot, in front of the cameras so to say, don't have much contact with the writers—"

"Hell, no, avoid 'em like the dam' plague." Lombard coming clean on his personal standpoint towards the breed.

"Can't say I've had anythin' in the line of an extended conversation with one—a writer, that is." Kelly furrowing her brow in an attempt to bring any particular incident to mind. "No, can't say I have. Where d'you keep 'em, anyway, Wainewright?"

"We only let 'em get as far as the Front Office, gen'rly." He sighing softly. "They're usually a dam' lot o'trouble, one an' all. They all thinkin', because they wrote the primary story or script, they have control over every aspect o'shootin' the film as well. Disabusin' them of that idea takes a lot of stamina, not t'say bravery; especially where the female writers come in—they bein', most o'the time, savage as wild coyotes that've missed their breakfasts. Constance Thompson rankin', I believe the sheet at Front Office shows, about third highest for that kind'a outlook t'wards those engaged in the film business gen'rly."

"Sheesh!" Stephanie groaning in wonderment at the trials and tribulations so obviously connected with winning her daily bread.

"What's Front Office gon'na do about all this, then, Wainewright?" Kelly bravely facing the terrors of the unknown, like Boudica in her day. "Got'ta be some losses involved, I'm sure. Better let us know the worst, right off, I suppose."

The accountant sat cogitating for a few seconds, getting his thoughts in order.

"Well, insurance'll cover the first three weeks Brookes's off the set." Looking around at the expressions of surprise at this revelation he smiled for the first time. "Yeah, we got insurance on all movies Redoubtable makes—don't take us, at Front Office, for complete idiots."

"Jee-sus, that's pretty good." Kelly, impressed down to her socks.

"—so," Wainewright went on, gazing around at everyone sitting at the table. "depending on how fast Brookes' can get back on his feet, we may not take any kind'a a big hit financially, at all. I gather, Mr Lombard, you can carry on shooting the movie; covering those scenes not needing Brookes' presence?"

"Oh, yeah; that's exactly what I intend, startin' tomorrow."

"Right; then we need only worry about how to shoot, pardon the expression, when he returns. Probably won't be able to ride a horse, or do physical things like fights or running around, or that kind'a thing."

"We can use doubles for all that." Stephanie seeing a way round much of the difficulties which she had till now been harbouring. "Yeah, doubles, long shots, over the shoulder shots; yeah, we could get away with a lot, that way; don't you think, Mr Lombard?"

"Sure thing, nothing easier." Lombard, an old hand in the 'B' movie business, nodded appreciatively. "Done sich a'fore; can do sich agin'."

"Well, with all that in mind, perhaps we should all think about returnin' t'town, an' gettin' some shut-eye?" Kelly, for one, happier than she had been just an hour previously. "What time's the on-set call, tomorrow, Mr Lombard?"

"We'll make it ten o'clock; then we can buckle down t'savin' this here dam' movie."

"Too right." Stephanie nodding in agreement at this heartfelt proposal. "OK, let's go; come on, Kel, supper's waitin' on our arrival back home, y'know."

"Har, is it? I ain't the one who'll be makin' it, doll—just sayin', is all."

"Graagh!"

—O—

The next day dawned sparklingly bright, as only a mid-summer Californian day could; the crew were all milling around the immediate vicinity of the Triple Triangle, waiting for instructions for the first scene to be filmed; and Stephanie and Kelly, full of renewed energy, were inside calculating along with Lombard exactly what could be done, in the present circumstances.

"Good job Wainewright an' Heikenberg have found other things to do, t'day." Kelly smiling cheerfully at all and sundry. "So, what's the first scene gon'na be, Lombard?"

"I was thinkin' we could set up the same shot we were doin' yesterday; that is, the shootin' between the baddie, Graham, an' Brookes. We'll set up an over the shoulder shot behind Brookes' double, an' take it from there."

"Minus the dam' Nagant?" Stephanie addressing the elephant in the room with some trepidation.

"Dam' straight, lady—I mean, yeah, jest so." Lombard nodding in agreement. "Campbell's got a nice Smith an' Wesson thirty-eight for Graham, that wouldn't make a baby bawl. Nuthin' can go wrong t'day, take my word on it, ladies."

—O—

The scene was divided into three separate parts; a long shot showing the two men standing-off each other out in the scrub; a medium shot of first Graham, in his black hat, then an over the shoulder of Brookes' double, in customary white hat; closing, finally, for the third part, with another wide shot as they drew on each other.

"It'll all take, oh, two hours, or so." Lombard in complete control. "Meb'be another thirty minutes fer additional shots; so we better get on it pronto, light won't wait fer us, y'know."

Stephanie and Kelly, though there was no necessity for their presence, were standing well behind the camera observing unfolding events; for their own peace of mind, if nothing else. Some half an hour earlier they had all clustered round Campbell as he loaded the Smith and Wesson about to be taken by Graham, everyone watching with eagle eyes as the armorer loaded the obviously blank cartridges into the weapon's cylinder; a sigh of relief going round when the job was done and Graham had set the weapon gently in his waist holster—Campbell's assistant, a young apprentice, meanwhile taking care of Brookes' double's weapon.

"OK, quiet on set—scene A. Take it away, boys."

The camera was set forty feet back from the two men, themselves standing about thirty feet apart; thus simulating the nearest to a widescreen image the 35mm Academy ratio camera lens could achieve. Both men took a few steps towards each other, without speaking; the camera held the scene for several more seconds, then Lombard called the end.

"Cut, print, no retakes; next shot."

Lombard, in his heyday, had been renowned for bringing movies in on schedule; on at least two occasions having actually succeeded in filming entire ninety minute movies with only single takes for each and every scene involved. It would have to be a mighty serious situation for him to essay a second take on any scene; and as for multiple takes, no chance.

"Scene B—Quiet."

The medium shot of Graham, looking mean as he eyed his distant opponent with an evil grin, was simple enough, taking no more than ten minutes. The same for Brookes' double was, however, more time consuming, not to say fraught with difficulties.

Lombard's camera-man, Lyle Forsythe, wasn't happy.

"This guy's too tall, Mr Lombard, is what it is."

"What? Wha'd'ya mean? Jeez, it's only a dam' small over the shoulder, like Graham's?"

"Graham's my height, about five seven." Forsythe knew his facts. "This guy's nearer five ten. Yeah, I know he exactly doubles Brookes; but all the same, he's too tall. We ain't got a crane out here, an' I can't get the camera lens up high enough to do an over the shoulder, at least so close up as we did with Graham."

"So?"

"We'll need'ta do a medium over the shoulder; say, about twenty feet back from him." Forsythe shrugged, as one facing up to the only solution. "Only way I can get the lens to shoot over his shoulder, an' show Graham in the distance."

"Christ! OK, do it. Ten minutes, everyone; except fer the camera crew."

Stephanie and Kelly, mute witnesses to all the preceding, had taken enough.

"God, let's get the hell out'ta this." Kelly crumbling first. "The ranch-house beckons, lady; to me, at least. We can make coffee there, y'know."

"I surely do, kid." Stephanie acquiescing without a fight, having been drained of energy by the nervous strain of the morning's work to date. "Let's go."

—O—

Out in the dusty scrub,—those involved daring flies, mosquitos, lizards, snakes of various types, and spiders in unlikely places—the show went on. The shot necessary for Brookes' double to be shown facing his distant opponent had successfully been put in the can—in one take, of course. Now the crew were setting up the third and last aspect of this scene; the actual shoot-out itself.

"OK, folks; the last shot—this's gon'na be the money-shot, believe me." Lombard speaking from long experience. "I've seen many shots like this, but this'll knock everyone's socks off, in the cinema, sure as red beans. OK, let's get to it—Speed?"

"Yeah."

"Roll 'em—an'—Action!"

Graham and Brookes' double faced-off each other for several vitally dramatic seconds then, at a hand signal from Lombard, they went for their pistols—

—O—

Back at the ranch-house the ladies, despising the sheets of accounts littering the main table, were settling in comfort on a side sofa, cups of coffee on the little table in front of them.

"Good job those blanks only go off with a little pop, ducks." Stephanie covering a pet topic of hers. "Or, at least, not with such a bloody big bang as the real thing. My ears couldn't stand listenin' t'the shoot-out out there, even so."

"Right with you, lover." Kelly sighing comfortably in her turn. "Good idea of that, our abandoning ship, an' coming back here t'relax. God, this coffee's good."

"What say we—"

Bang!

From somewhere in the far distance, but still within hearing range, came a loud sharp report—only one and no more; but enough for doubt, anxiety, ending in outright fear, to dawn in the minds of the two listeners.

"Stevie, was that—?"

"Oh, Go—"

The door to the main room of the ranch shot open, revealing to view none other than young Frank Shilbach, looking as scared and excited as the first time Stephanie and Kelly had met him.

"Jeez; oh, Jeez—"

"What, Frank. What?" Kelly coming in with the important question.

"What's happened, Frank?" Stephanie following up her lover's start.

"It's—it's—it's Brookes' double—he's shot Graham!"

—O—

The light grey 1936 Plymouth four-door police sedan, in all its bulky boxy splendour, rolled to a halt on the beaten earth surface in front of the Triple Triangle ranch-house. It was just after noon; the sun beating down with an almost deliberate intensity, taking no prisoners—the exact opposite of what the occupant of the vehicle had it in mind to do.

While the spectators, Lombard, Forsythe, Stephanie and Kelly, stood metaphorically shivering like naughty children under the shadow of the front porch roof, Earl Dallington Cornford, Sheriff of Pontas County, California, waited just that precisely perfect amount of time in order to instil a feeling of coming Armageddon in his victims, then stepped out his vehicle.

With his heavy car providing an excellent back-drop Cornford stood four-square, legs straight, shoulders lowered, arms at his sides, hands twitching at his belt where he carried his .45 Colt: brows darkened and glowering at one and all—the Law, this time for certain sure, had come to the Triple Triangle.

"Oh, God; I think he means it, this time round." Kelly reading the script accurately, as she saw it.

"Doll, I think ya ain't wrong." Stephanie sighing quietly, placing a gentle hand on her lover's shoulder. "What're the meals like in Sing-Sing, d'ya know?"

"Graagh."

The End

—O—

The next 'Redoubtable Studios' story will be along shortly.

—OOO—