"Could it possibly have been a freak accident—a mistake?" Julie said when he'd finally told her everything. "I mean, what if the man who was supposed to put blanks in the gun—Andy Stemple—put the hollow-point shells in it by mistake and was too much of a coward to admit it?"
Zack propped his elbows on his knees and shook his head. "Stemple didn't make a mistake, he was a firearms specialist. After a disaster during the filming of Twilight Zone, The Movie, the Directors Guild started requiring that specially trained pyrotechnics people, like Stemple, be put in charge of any firearms being used in a picture. Stemple was qualified and in charge of the gun, but because it was the only weapon being used, and because we were short-handed, he was also filling in as a grip. He'd checked the gun and loaded the clip with blanks himself that morning. Besides, those hollow-point shells didn't get in there by accident. The gun had been wiped clean of all fingerprints before it was put on the table," he reminded her. That little detail is one of the things that sent me to prison."
"But if you'd wiped the gun clean you wouldn't have been stupid enough to leave a fingerprint on it."
"It wasn't a full print, it was a smudge of my forefinger on the very bottom of the gun's butt. The prosecutor convinced the jury I'd overlooked that part of the gun when I wiped it clean."
"But," she mused, "the fingerprint actually got there when you shoved the gun a little forward on the table so it wouldn't be so visible to the camera."
It wasn't a question, she was merely restating what he'd told her as if it was gospel fact, and Zack adored her for her trust. "It wouldn't have mattered if the gun hadn't been wiped clean or if my prints weren't found on it. They'd have said I wore gloves. If I hadn't changed my mind during that last scene and Austin had been shot instead of Rachel, they'd have still said I did it. Because the fact was, and is, that I was the only one with a strong enough motive to murder Austin or Rachel." Zack watched her struggle to keep her expressive features from showing her sympathy and ire, and he tried to smile reassuringly at her as he said, "Have you had enough frustration for one day? Can we stop now and enjoy what's left of it? It's after five o'clock."
"I know," Julie said in a preoccupied voice. She'd spread all the index cards out across the coffee table, but it was the four cards in the bottom row, closest to her, that identified the people she was still interested in—or suspicious of. "Just a few minutes more?" she asked, and when he opened his mouth to object, she said desperately, "Zack, one of the cards on this table identifies whoever committed murder and then stood by while you went to prison for it!"
Zack was well aware of that fact, but he didn't have the heart to deny her, so he squelched his frustration and waited patiently for her to finish.
"I don't feel right about Diana Copeland," Julie began, gazing past him, lost in thought. "I think she was in love with you."
"What in God's name would give you that idea?" he replied, caught between amusement and exasperation.
"It's fairly obvious." Propping her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand, she explained, "You said she was supposed to have left for Los Angeles on the morning of the murder, but she stayed in Dallas and came out to the set instead. She told you herself that she stayed because she'd heard about what happened in the hotel room the night before and she wanted to be there in case you needed moral support. I think she was in love with you, so she decided to kill Rachel."
"And let the man she supposedly loved take the rap for it? I don't think so," he mocked. "Besides, there's virtually no chance Diana knew I intended to have Tony fire that shot instead of Rachel. Furthermore," he said, "you have an absurdly naive view of love and Hollywood relationships. The reality is that actresses are desperately in need of constant reinforcement that they're loved by everybody. They don't fall in love and give up everything for some man, let alone commit murder for him. They're interested in what a relationship can give them. They're emotionally needy, wildly ambitious, and thoroughly egocentric."
"There must be exceptions."
"I wouldn't know from personal experience," he said curtly.
"That was some great world you lived in," she countered, "if it turned you into such a cynic about people and especially women."
"I'm not cynical," Zack retorted, irrationally stung by her obvious disapproval. "I'm realistic! You, on the other hand, are absurdly naive about relationships between the sexes."
Instead of flaring at him, she studied him with eyes like deep blue crystals. "Am I really, Zack?" she asked softly.
Whenever she said his name, his heart seemed to lunge for his ribs, and to compound his discomfiture, he was discovering that the "absurdly naive" girl seated at his feet could make him repent and recant merely by looking up at him through her lashes, as she was now. "One of us is," he said irritably, and when she continued to look at him, he relented even further. "I was probably a cynic before I made my first picture." With an exasperated grin at his inability to withstand the sweet, silent pressure she was putting on him, he added, "Now, stop looking at me like you expect me to admit that I was talking like an ass before, and ask your next question. Who's your next suspect?"
Her infectious smile was his reward, then she obediently complied with his order to continue:
"Tommy Newton," she said, after glancing at one of the cards.
"Why in hell would Tommy want to kill Rachel or Austin?"
"Maybe he wanted to get rid of you permanently, and that was just a means to an end. You said yourself he'd worked with you as an assistant director on several films. Maybe he was tired of playing second fiddle and always being overshadowed by the great Zachary Benedict."
"Julie," Zack said patiently, "in the first place, Tommy had a brilliant career as a director ahead of him and he knew it then. So did I. He was eager to work with me on Destiny."
"In the second place," Zack finished dryly, "he was also in love with the potential victim of that gunshot, so he wouldn't have switched the shells in the gun."
"But that could make a difference! You didn't tell me he was in love with Rachel—"
"But you just said—"
"He was in love with Austin."