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By David Rosenfelt
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2005 David Rosenfelt
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Chapter OneI STEP OFF THE PLANE, and for the first time in my life, I'm in Los Angeles. I'm not sure why I've never been here before. I certainly haven't had any preconceived notions about the place, other than the fact that the people here are insincere, draft-dodging, drug-taking, money-grubbing, breast-implanting, out-of-touch, pate-eating, pom-pous, Lakers-loving, let's-do-lunching, elitist scumbags.
But here I am, open-minded as always.
Walking next to me is Willie Miller, whose own mind is so wide-open that anything at all is completely free to go in and out, and often does. I'm not sure how thoughts actually enter his mind, but the point of exit is definitely his mouth. "This place ain't so cool," says Willie.
"Willie, it's only the airport." I look over at him and am surprised to see that he is wearing sunglasses. They seem to have appeared in the last few seconds, as if he has grown them. While he doesn't consider the airport "cool," he apparently fears that it might be sunny.
Willie has become a good friend these last couple of years. He's twenty-eight, ten years my junior, and we met when I successfully defended him on an appeal of a murder charge for which he had been wrongly convicted. Willie spent seven long years on death row, and his story is the reason we're out here. That and the fact that I had nothing better to do.
We take the escalator down to baggage claim, where a tall blond man wearing a black suit and sunglasses just like Willie's holds up a sign that says "Carpenter." Since my name is Andy Carpenter, I pick up on this almost immediately. "That's us," I say to the man, who is obviously our driver.
"How was your flight?" he asks, an opening conversational gambit I suspect he's used before. I say that it was fine, and then we move smoothly into a chat about the weather while we wait for the bags to come down. I learn that it's sunny today, has been sunny this month, last month, and will be sunny next month and the month after that. It's early June, and there is no chance of rain until December. However, I sense that the driver is a little nervous, because for tomorrow they're predicting a forty percent chance of clouds.
I have just one small suitcase, which I wouldn't have bothered to check had not Willie brought two enormous ones. I make the mistake of trying to lift one of Willie's bags off the carousel; it must weigh four hundred pounds. "Did you bring your rock collection?" I ask, but Willie just shrugs and lifts the bag as if it were filled with pillows.
I've lived in apartments smaller than the limousine that transports us to the hotel. The movie studio is obviously trying to impress us, and so far succeeding quite well. It's only been a week since they called me and expressed a desire to turn my defense of Willie into a feature film, and we are out here to negotiate the possible sale of those rights. It's not something I relish, but Willie and the others involved all coaxed me into it. Had I known we would be flown first-class and whisked around in limos with a bar and TV, it might not have taken quite so much coaxing.
The truth is, none of us need the money we might make from this deal. I inherited twenty-two million dollars from my father, Willie received ten million dollars from a civil suit which we brought after his release, and I split up the million-dollar commission from that suit among everybody else. That "everybody else" consists of my associate, Kevin Randall, my secretary, Edna, and Laurie Collins, who functions in the dual role of private investigator and love of my life.
I would be far more enthusiastic about this trip if Laurie were here, but she decided to fly back to Findlay, Wisconsin, for her fifteenth high school reunion. When I warily mentioned that it would also be a chance for her to see her old boyfriends, she smiled and said, "We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"I'll be spending all my time in LA with nubile young actresses," I countered. "Sex-starved, lawyer-loving, nubile young actresses. The town is full of them." I said this in a pathetic and futile attempt to get her to change her mind and come out here with me. Instead, she said, "You do that." I didn't bother countering with, "I will," since we both know I won't.
So it's just Willie and me that the driver drops off at the Beverly Regent Wilshire Hotel. It's a nice enough place, but based on the nightly rate, the fairly average rooms must have buried treasure in the mattresses. But again, the studio is paying, which is one reason the first thing I do is have a fourteen-dollar can of mixed nuts from the minibar.
Since Willie's release from prison brought him some measure of fame, his life has taken some other dramatic turns. In addition to becoming wealthy, he's gotten married, partnered with me in a dog rescue operation, and become part of the very exclusive New York social scene. He and wife Sondra are out every night with what used to be known as the in crowd, though I am so far "out" that I'm not sure what they're called anymore. He is constantly and unintentionally name-dropping friends in the sports, entertainment, and art worlds, though he comically often has no idea that anyone else has heard of them.
Willie's social reach apparently extends across the country, because he invites me to go "clubbing" tonight with him and a number of his friends. I would rather be clubbed over the head, so I decline and make plans to order room service and watch a baseball game.
First I call Laurie at her hotel in Findlay, but she's out. I hope she's in the process of marveling at how fat and bald all her old boyfriends have gotten. Next I call Kevin Randall, who is watching Tara for me while I'm gone.
Golden retrievers are the greatest living things on this planet, and Tara is the greatest of all golden retrievers, so that makes her fairly special. I hate leaving her, even for a day, but there was no way I was going to put her in a crate in the bottom of a hot airplane.
"Hello?" Kevin answers, his voice raspy.
I put him through about three or four minutes of swearing to me that Tara is doing well, and then I ask him how he's feeling, since his voice maintains that raspy sound. I ask this reluctantly, since Kevin is America's foremost hypo-chondriac. "I'm okay," he says.
I'd love to leave it at that, but it would ruin his night. "You sure?" I ask.
"Well ...," he starts hesitantly, "do you know if humans can catch diseases from dogs?"
"Why? Is Tara sick?"
"I told you she was fine," he says. "We're talking about me now. I seem to have developed a cough." He throws in a couple of hacking noises, just in case I didn't know what he meant by "cough."
"That definitely sounds like kennel cough," I say. "You should curl up and sleep next to a warm oven tonight. And don't have more than a cup of kibble for dinner."
Kevin, who is no dummy, shrewdly figures out that I am going to continue to make fun of him if he pursues this, so he lets me extricate myself from the call. Once I do so, I have dinner and lie down to watch the Dodgers play the Padres. I'm not terribly interested in it, which is why I'm asleep by the third inning.
I wake up at seven and order room service. I get the Assorted Fresh Berries for twenty-one fifty; for that price I would have expected twin Halle Berrys. They also bring an LA Times and Wall Street Journal, which are probably costing twenty bucks apiece.
The same driver and limo show up at nine in the morning to take Willie and me to the studio. We arrive early for our meeting, so we spend some time walking around the place, looking for stars. I don't see any, unless you count Willie.
We are eventually ushered into the office of Greg Burroughs, president of production at the studio. With him are a roomful of his colleagues, each with a title like "executive vice president" or "senior vice president." There seems to be an endless supply of gloriously titled executives; I wouldn't be surprised if there are three or four "emperors of production." The lowest ranked of the group is just a vice president, so it's probably the pathetic wretch's job to fetch the coffee and donuts.
It turns out that the overflow crowd is there merely as a show of how important we are to them, and everybody but Greg and a senior VP named Eric Anderson soon melts away. Greg is probably in his late thirties, and my guess is, he has ten years on Eric.
"Eric will be the production executive on this project," Greg informs. "He shares my passion for it." Eric nods earnestly, confirming that passion, as if we had any doubt.
Willie's been uncharacteristically quiet, but he decides to focus in on that which is important. "Who's gonna play me?"
Greg smiles. "Who do you have in mind?"
"Denzel Washington," says Willie without any hesitation. He's obviously given it some thought.
"I can see that." Greg nods, then looks at Eric, whose identical nod indicates that he, too, can see it. "The thing is, Will, we don't start to deal with casting until we have a script and director in place. But it's a really good thought."
Eric directs a question at "Will." "I hope you don't mind my asking, but do you have a mother?"
Willie shakes his head. "Nah. Used to."
"Why?" asks Greg of Eric, barely containing his curiosity.
"Well," Eric says, looking around the room and then back at Willie, "I hope I'm not talking out of turn, and this is just me speaking off the top of my head, but I was thinking it would be really great if you had a mother."
"Interesting," says Greg, as if this is the first time he has heard this idea. My sense is that Eric wouldn't say "good morning" without first clearing it with Greg, even if it's just "off the top" of his head.
"Well, it ain't that interesting to me," says Willie. "My mother took off when I was three and left me in a bus station. I ain't got no family."
Eric nods. "I understand, and again, I'm just thinking out loud off the top of my head, but I'm talking about for the sake of the story. If your mother was there, supporting you the whole time you were in prison, believing in you ..."
Willie is starting to get annoyed, which in itself does not qualify as a rare occurrence. "Yeah, she could have baked me fucking cupcakes. And we could have had a party in the prison. Mom and Dad could have invited all my fucking invisible aunts and uncles and cousins."
I intervene, partially because I'm concerned that Willie might throw Greg and Eric out the fifth-story window and they might bounce off the top of their heads. It would also necessitate getting two other passionate executives in here, thereby prolonging this meeting. The other reason I jump in is that they are alluding to an area in which I have a real concern, which is taking dramatic license and changing the characters and events. I've heard about the extraordinary liberties Hollywood can take with "true" stories, and I don't want to wind up being portrayed as the lead lawyer of the transvestite wing of Hamas.
We hash this out for a while, and they assure me that the contract will address my concerns. We agree on a price, and they tell me that a writer will be assigned and will want to go back East to meet and get to know all of us.
I stand up. "So that's it?"
Eric smiles and shakes my hand. "That's it. Let's make a movie."
Excerpted from Sudden Death by David Rosenfelt Copyright © 2005 by David Rosenfelt . Excerpted by permission.
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