Two words that seem to go together are Hollywood and irony. I point to the fact that I had to do what they call a ‘psychological autopsy,’ which is when you try to figure out what went through someone’s mind before they put a bullet in it with out having the body to examine. After all, in this case there was no doubt about the cause of death, so all that was left was the reason.
“I can’t make sense of any of it,” the now-dead space captain said on the laptop screen. Behind him was a calendar with half the dates X-ed out in blood red and a rack of hats on a wall, a very non-spaceship setting. “I have to end it,” he continued. Then the image of the man on the screen put the revolver in his hand up to his right temple and pulled the trigger.
I froze the screen before his falling forward onto the laptop had shut it off. And before he’d splattered his brains out of the side of his head. I turned to the woman who had brought the thumb drive with the gruesome image to me. “I’ve looked at this a number of times since I got this, Mrs. Barnet, and I can’t think any differently than the police; your brother killed himself and this video proves it.”
The middle-aged woman that sat across from me in the booth at Universal Studio’s café was clearly past tears, but the aura of misery hung around her like a cloud. “I know that, Mister Shadows,” she said, “but despite what the public thought, my brother was a deeply religious man, a devout Catholic and his taking his own life like this … was … was an aberration. I know he has had periods of deep depression but to think that something drove him to this, and I missed it, is a guilt I cannot live with. What could have caused such desperation, such depths of pain? I want to know; I need to know if there is something I could have done.”
I was in Los Angeles on another case when the Shadows Foundation coordinator referred Jill Barnet to me. I really didn’t see I could do anything but agree with the police’s final ruling on the suicide of Bill Shaker, famous for the Role of Space Captain Cody in the ’90s TV series. He was in the process of making the revival movie when, on a lunch break, he put a gun to his head.
I had enjoyed his show way back when, and to see him—in his captain’s uniform—put that gun to his head was startling even to this jaded investigator. I guess you could say his last show was his most spectacular.
“I don’t know that I can do much to give you the closure you want, Mrs. Barnet. It is all pretty cut and dried.”
“That’s what they say, Mister Shadows, but it’s not true. Why? I have to know why. I have nowhere else to go.”
There it was, the appeal. The mandate of the Foundation was “Help for the helpless, hope for the hopeless,” so I could not really turn my back on her; even if I could only give her a vague peace of mind, I had to try.
“Okay,” I said, “I will look into it.”
The first thing I wanted to do was get a sense of who the man was, in order to find out what could have driven him to suicide. I started at where it ended for him, his bungalow on the Universal lot.
It was an odd feeling walking down those back-lot streets in the off hours, the New York Street so familiar from so many movies, and the European street right next to it. I was impressed especially by the cobbled stones under the arch where the Frankenstein monster had raged against the villagers so long ago.
Hollywood magic seemed so real walking on those streets, but then, that was the whole idea.
The little bungalow was in a line of others and still had the ‘do not enter’ tape across the door. I had written authorization and a key so I went in.
Inside the room had been untouched from the day, two weeks ago, when William ‘Bill’ John Shaker had been found with his brains blown out on the floor of the room.
Once the door was closed, all outside sound was gone and I was alone as he must have been in those last moments.
I stood for a moment to take it in.
To my right was the big production calendar with all but the last two days crossed off; a hat rack with several fedoras that he favored and was known for wearing; and an open closet with spare uniforms, a suit jacket, robe and slippers. Next to it was a bathroom door.