What will be next?

One thing that always worries me when I’m working on something is what’s next? What am I going to work on after I’m done with whatever current project I’m on. Well, this evening I was doing some cleaning up of my hard drive and decided what files to put “in the cloud” and stumbled across the first chapter for what will be the sequel to Our Own Devils. I liked what I was doing but one particular chapter took me out of it because I got mired in some exposition that I walked away from it but always had the intent of going back. I hope I don’t sound too full of myself, but I really like this fist chapter.

 

            I was a stranger in a strange land, a fish out of water, all of the bad analogies used to describe someone who was somewhere they most certainly didn’t belong.  What’s more was that I really didn’t know why I was there.

            I was sitting in the lobby of the new Hilton hotel that overlooked the Omaha Waterfront.  The waterfront was in the process of upheaval in the name of urban renewal, an attempt at revitalizing tourism for the Big O.  The new QwestCenter where concerts were rocked and sporting events were…sported was within reasonable walking distance, and across the street from that a new baseball complex was under construction, Omaha’s new home for the College World Series.

            For the most part, I’d been pretty unimpressed.  But to be fair, I was pretty hard to impress those days.  I just didn’t have it in me to get excited all that often.

            I’d been kept waiting in the lobby a good half hour for my meeting during which I’d read most of the sports page from the morning paper and read most of what was happening to the socialites and media darlings in a People magazine.  I’d actually spent most of my time smiling and nodding at the people who passed by me and eyed me like some offending insect.  Faded blue jeans, beat up sneakers, and a slightly tattered Carhart coat were a rare sight at nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning in mid October amongst the three piece suits and leather attaché cases that were staying there for a few days on business.

            To make matters worse, was I was getting hungry.  I only had five bucks in my wallet so I couldn’t afford to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant and the clerk at the front desk had been staring me down most of the time I’d been there.  Thus, the odds of my swiping a complimentary bagel were pretty darn slim.

            Eventually, a hotel concierge called me by name and led me to an elevator that took us to the top floor.  He didn’t bother to try and engage me in small talk.  There weren’t too many doors on the top floor of the hotel.  He knocked discreetly on one and opened it with his master card key.  He opened the door without stepping inside and waved me in without a word.  I shrugged and stepped inside while the door closed behind me.

            I found myself the lone occupant of the main room of what appeared to be a two bedroom suite.  The room was well furnished with two couches and a love seat situated around a glass topped coffee table so that anyone sitting in them could enjoy the view of the Omaha skyline through the large pane glass windows.  A dining room table with seating for eight was off to the side of the room with papers and two Apple MacBook Pros strewn across it.  As nosy as I was, I resisted the urge to snoop.  It was a difficult task.  After all, I still had no idea why I was there.

            Against the opposite wall was a small yet well stocked bar complete with a counter and two upholstered bar stools.  The bottles of top shelf brands were beautiful; the bottles were all clean and reflected the light in the room, the metal pourers in all of them shone brightly.  They were all more tempting than the stacks of papers on the table.  I hoped that no one offered me a drink, I’d been drinking way too much as it was.

            A bedroom door near the dining table opened and broke me away from coveting the bar.  Three people, two men and a woman, emerged from the room.  They were all dressed better than me—not hard to do those days—and they all smelled of expensive soap and cologne.  I was glad I’d at least shaved that morning.

            It was easy to tell who of three was in charge.  He had the biggest smile, the nicest clothes, and I was certain he had the biggest annual income of anyone in the room.     

            “Malcolm Connally!” he said with raised eyebrows and a look of feigned surprise.  I knew it was a put on because he was the one who had called me.  He smiled warmly as he walked up to me and shook my hand while his friends stayed a few feet behind him.

            “Austin,” I said as I took his hand.  I still didn’t like his handshake; overly firm, like he felt an inappropriate need to assert his superiority.

            “Whoa,” he said with a fake laugh.  “I told you on the phone, Bro.  I go by Holt now.  There was already an Austin McCoy registered with the Actor’s Guild.  So I go by my middle name now.”

            “Right, must have forgotten,” I lied.  I remembered, I just wanted to see it get a rise out of him.

            Austin Holt McCoy was an Omaha darling; the current ‘local boy does good’ story.  He’d been a high school sports star in basketball and football but he’d also done well in speech and drama, focusing in acting.  I’d been involved in most of those activities, too, finishing just behind Austin every time.  Then one summer weekend there’d been a cattle call for would be performers and actors from a talent company.  Austin and I had each gone and auditioned.  When the agency contacted me and said there was a two thousand dollar price tag for their services I bailed on it and thought it was a scam.  I also didn’t have two thousand bucks laying around to blow on it.  Austin’s parents did.  Six months later he’d inked a development deal with a major production company and fame and fortune came calling not too long after. 

            “So what’s it been?  Fifteen years?” he said with a big smile as he gestured for me to sit down.

            “Give or take,” I said.

            Holt didn’t follow up with another question.  He just sat across from me with his legs crossed and his arms propped upon the back of the couch with a large smile on his face as he chewed on a piece of gum.  I wasn’t sure if he was enjoying seeing me after such a long time or if he was being smug and showing off for me.  He was dressed in a very expensive looking pair of sweatpants and a thin, matching zip up hooded sweatshirt over what appeared to be a silk or satin tank top.  Snazzy.  I couldn’t help but notice he seemed to be nodding his head to music that I couldn’t hear.

            “Is there a reason why you asked me down here?”

            “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said as he leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees.  He looked past me to his two associates that were seated at the dining room table behind me.  “Um, George?”

            I turned in my spot and looked over my shoulder to the gentleman.  He was dressed slightly more professionally than Holt, in a pair of painstakingly and precisely faded blue jeans with a blue v-neck shirt and black sport coat.  He’d been absently eyeing the screen of his MacBook until his name was called.  Then he was casually on his feet, but appeared grateful that he’d finally been called upon.

            “The reason you’re here, Mr. Connally, is—”

            “Who are you?” I interrupted.

            “Excuse me?” said George, eyeing me with disdain for having the gall to interrupt him.

            “I asked, ‘Who are you?’  As in, ‘Who are you and why should I care?’”

            George appeared somewhat flabbergasted.  “My name is George Crane; I’m Holt’s business advisor.”

            “Okay,” I said with a pleasant smile.  “I’d just like to know everyone’s name before we carry on.”  I looked at the woman and smiled at her.  “And who might you be?”

            The woman looked up from the stack of papers she was reading briefly just to acknowledge that she’d heard me.  “Debbie Forbes, I’m Holt’s press agent.”  And then she turned her attention back to her papers.  I used to be more charming.  Maybe I’d gotten too fat and lazy to be charming anymore.

            “Please, Mr. Crane, continue,” I said.

            “Right,” he said after clearing his throat.  “I’m not sure if you are aware or not, Mr. Connally, but several months ago Holt formed his own production company: Real McCoy Films.”  I curbed my initial gut reaction to groan audibly.  “Holt’s been very adamant about the film he wants to make for our first venture.  Personally, there were several scripts for romantic comedies we’d been offered that I thought would have been better for us to start out with.”

            “But what does this have to do with me?” I said.  “Am I supposed to knock some sense into him?”

            Across from me, Holt snickered.

            “Like you could, Connally.”

            There it is, I thought.  I’d wondered how long it was going to take for the old schisms of high school to come knocking.

            “So what’s this got to do with me?” I said to Crane, but Holt answered.

            “Remember where we were in high school?” he began.  “There was always talk going around about some kind of religious cult west of here, over in Columbus, called the Freelys?”  I nodded.  “I’d always thought it was a bunch of bull but I always remembered it in the back of my head.  Then a few years ago I was home for Christmas and I’d heard a few mutterings about them.  When I got back to LA, my head started churning out some ideas for a movie about them.  Something like a cop having to go in and save some chick from the Freelys but first he has to kind of become a Freely for a while.  You understand what I mean?”

            “You want to remake Witness with the Freelys instead of the Amish,” I said.

            “Not exactly,” said Crane behind me.  I turned in my seat to face him.  Eventually I was going to have to get Crane and Holt next to each other because I was getting sick of twisting around a lot.  “Witness was made over twenty years ago.  This film would be a hell of a lot hotter.”

            “Wouldn’t Witness have been a lot better if you’d gotten to see Kelly McGillis’ tits?” Holt said with big eager eyes.  It then truly struck me that Austin Holt McCoy hadn’t changed one bit since we’d left high school and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

            “This still doesn’t tell me what I’m doing here.”

            Crane said, “I had a few different screenwriters do up treatments of the story.  Holt wasn’t impressed with any of them.  He was concerned that they weren’t ‘real’ enough.”  It was obvious from his tone that Crane didn’t agree with Holt’s assessment.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw him roll his eyes a little as well.

            “Hey, man,” said Holt, making me turn again.  “I didn’t get into this business to keep lulling people into the belief that the world’s all beautiful and happy.  I want to hold a mirror up to society and force it to face the ugliness of reality.  I’ll all about verisimilitude, man: the illusion of reality.”

            There was a slight break, a hesitation between “verisimilitude” and “man”, like he’d hesitated and almost said “dude” but thought better of it.

            “So at Holt’s behest,” Crane went on, “we sent one of the company’s new associate producers to Columbus to do some initial research.  You know; just ask some questions, get some firsthand accounts and the like.  Something to try and base the film in more facts like Holt wants.”

            “Here we go,” I said.

            “Yes.  Our producer was found dead a week ago in Columbus.”

            “Cause of death?”

            “Accidental drowning,” said Crane.  “His car was found in a lake with him inside of it.”

            “What did the local police have to say?”

            “Nothing out of the ordinary,” said Crane.  “There was water found in his lungs, there did not appear to be any marks on the body to indicate foul play.  It appears that his car slipped out of gear and rolled into the lake while he was unconscious.  His Blood Alcohol Content was well above the legal limit.”

            “And you’re not completely satisfied with the results of the investigation,” I surmised.  I’m a very good detective.

            “Damn right I’m not,” said Holt.  “I know those bastards had something to do with it.”

            “The Freelys, you mean,” I said.

            “You’re damn right I mean the Freelys,” said Holt as I stood and walked towards the bar.  I wasn’t going for a drink.  I just wanted to have everyone in the room in front of me so I could stop twisting my head and torso around.

            “I mean, think about it:  That town gets a murder maybe once every twenty years or so.  Are they really going to recognize one when they see it if there isn’t a giant bullet hole in the guy’s skull?  And it just seems too damn coincidental that not long after he shows up there he winds up dead.  I don’t like coincidences.”

            I stifled a chuckle.  Holt had done a movie about a year or two earlier where his character said that about coincidences.  A lot.  It wasn’t a very good movie.

            “So you want me to look into it,” I said.

            “Yes,” said Holt eagerly.  George Crane nodded less enthusiastically.  Debbie Forbes snorted softly and shook her head slightly without looking up from the papers she’d been going through.

            “You don’t think it’s a good idea?” I said to her. 

            She took off her reading glasses and looked up from her papers, regarding me coolly.  “No, I don’t.  From a PR aspect, I feel it’s a very bad idea.  Once it gets leaked to the press that a Hollywood actor is sending in his own mercenaries and bounty hunters into a community, in the face of local law enforcement, as part of some personal vendetta…  It won’t play out well.”

            “Well, Miss Forbes, if it makes you feel any better I’m not a bounty hunter.”

            “It does not.”

            “I’m also not a mercenary.”

            “Mister Connally, are you a member of any formal law enforcement agency?”

            “Not currently, no.”

            “You are hired by independent parties to placate their individual needs and goals.”

            “I suppose you could put it that way.”

            “That makes you a mercenary in my book.”  With that, she returned her glasses to their rightful place and turned her full attention back to her papers.  That part of the discussion was obviously over.

            “Are you interested, Mr. Connally?” prodded Crane.  Holt looked up at me from the couch like a child waiting for Santa to appear with a new bicycle.  I groaned softly as I stepped closer to the window and took in the view with the thumb of my left hand pressed against my left cheek while the other fingers rubbed my chin and lower lip.

            “I don’t know,” I said honestly.

            “If it’s a matter of money…” said Holt, letting the statement trail off and hang in the expensive room.

            “It’s not that,” I said.  “It’s a matter of ruffling feathers that don’t normally like getting ruffled.

            “How do you mean,” asked Crane.

            “I mean cops don’t like outsiders telling them they’re wrong,” I said.  “And then the Freelys…  If they are involved and they’re as shady as those old stories made them out to be…  Well, let’s just say they wouldn’t get left alone if they didn’t have some kind of political clout.”

            “But, hey!  Maybe I’m wrong and the Freelys aren’t involved,” said Holt as he rose from the couch quickly and walked over to me.  “All I want is the truth, Connally.”  Then his demeanor changed some.  His face took on a stiff appearance, his posture straightened, and he put a firm hand on my shoulder.

            “Will you help us?”

            Even his voice had changed.  Jesus!  He was acting!

            “Look Aus—… Holt,” I stammered, “are you sure I’m the right guy for this?  I mean, aren’t you connected to a major movie studio or something in some way?  A place that maybe has a large big time detective agency working for it?”

            “Yeah, but they won’t believe in it,” said Holt, slowly letting his true self creep back up to the surface.  “And I need someone I can trust.”

            I shot him a dubious look.

            “McCoy, didn’t you remind me for a month that I didn’t have a mommy after my mom died?”

            He laughed sheepishly and shrugged.  “Come on, Connally,” he said.  “That was when we were kids.  Please do this for me.  I’ll pay you more than your usual fee and give you an expense account.  I’ll even give you a big retainer.”

            “Holt!” shouted Crane.  “We never discussed anything like this!”

            “Shut up, Georgie!” McCoy snapped back.  “We’re going to do it and this is how we’re going to do it!”  Then to me, “Please, Mac?”

            I felt the weight of everyone’s eyes upon me.  Holt was staring at me pleadingly, George Crane was looking put out and frustrated as he alternated his gaze between me and Holt, and then Debbie Forbes was eyeing us curiously over the papers in her hands.  No pressure.

            “I’ll think about it,” I said.

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3 Comments

  1. Sounds great! Can’t wait for you to finish!

  2. I’ll be the first to buy it on Amazon. I just love my Moseman, Matthew collection.

    • I should have a book ready for Kindle, Nook, and paperback by Christmas. It’s a prequel to Our Own Devils that I actually finished after college but shelved for twelve years because I was never that happy with it.


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