Excerpt, The Stand In

Solomon and Cates were silent as they ascended Outpost Drive in the mogul’s immense white, custom-made Imperial Royale.  Cates cast an occasional worried glance at Solomon, not liking the ashen sheen of the man’s complexion.  Solomon appeared as though he was going to keel over at any moment, and Cates prepared himself to seize the wheel.  They arrived at Mulholland safely, however, and Solomon turned sharply left.  Another half-mile and he made a right into a higher section of the hill.  Within moments, they were in the cul-de-sac where Rick’s home was found.  The star’s Corvette was parked in the sloped, curving driveway.

“He’s home,” Solomon said.  “You’d think if he killed anyone he’d be on the run, wouldn’t you?”  He spoke almost triumphantly, as though the mystery were solved.

“Maybe.”  Cates was noncommittal.

Solomon pulled to a stop behind the Corvette.  At the door, Solomon leaned forward to press the doorbell.  It chimed from somewhere deep within the house.  They waited.  Solomon rang the bell a second time.  When again there was no answer, Cates tried the knob.  The door swung open.

Exchanging worried glances, the pair stepped inside.

By any stretch of the imagination, the house was stunningly designed.  Its many levels descended down the side of the steep cliff like a cascading waterfall.  The kitchen and dining room were located off the front door, on the mezzanine level, while a grand living room occupied the entire level below.  An accent wall of layered stone ran to the exposed ceiling of tongue-in-groove cedar wood planks, while the back of the house was paned entirely in glass.  Over to the east Solomon glimpsed the immense letters of blazing orange that belonged to the Hollywood sign, reflected in the setting sun.

The effect would have been magnificent had the house not been a rat’s nest of debris.  Empty liquor bottles were piled in the corners, newspapers were scattered across the floor, and every ashtray overflowed with butts.  Worse, the air was sour with the remains of discarded food cartons that littered the tables and countertops.  Only the year before, Solomon had attended the party celebrating the home’s completion, and he was appalled to see how the former showplace had fallen into such disorder so quickly.

“What a shithole,” Cates muttered.

Solomon looked down the staircase and called out hopefully, “Rick…?”

There was no answer.  Cates and Solomon slowly descended into the living room, where the bloody light picked out bits of lurid detail – cigarette burns in the plush rug, curtains torn from their hooks, piles of unread scripts lying in untidy heaps next to the low-slung fireplace.  A quick check of the terrace beyond told them that Rick was not there.  They went down another flight of stairs, narrower this time, to the lowest level where the bedrooms opened out onto the pool and back yard.

The house was so eerily silent, so dilapidated, that Solomon felt something awful must have happened there.  Cates, who had gone ahead of him into the master bedroom, called out, “Louis –  ”

Solomon followed the policeman’s voice into the bathroom.  Cates nodded grimly toward the vanity.  A used syringe lay on the marble counter, along with what Solomon surmised was a rubber tourniquet.  He shook his head in disgust; Rick was using again.

Narcotics had claimed many actors that Solomon had known and employed, all the way back to the silent days.  The time between pictures was a particular torment for some of them.  To alleviate the boredom, or even the intensity of filming itself, more than a few actors had turned to the oblivion of drugs, and their careers were usually cut short as a result.  Either they became increasingly erratic, as Rick was beginning to demonstrate, or their usage was exposed in ways that could no longer be concealed from the public.  At the end of the West of Paradise shoot Solomon had sent Rick for treatment.  Supposedly, he had been clean since then.  Apparently, however, his “accident” with Lola had triggered a new round of abuse.

Solomon was shaking his head when a sudden voice from behind made him jump.  “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Solomon and Cates whirled around, the latter instinctively going for his gun.

“Rick!” Solomon exclaimed.  “Didn’t you hear us calling?”

The star shook his head uncertainly.  “I was at the pool…”

Rick was naked, clad only in a bathrobe, but even with that single garment he still managed to look disheveled.  His eyes were red-rimmed and dilated, and he was unshaven.  But it was the livid and swollen wound on his forehead that caught the men’s attention.

Rick casually fastened his robe.  “Want a drink?”

Solomon took the lead.  “Thanks, Rick, no.  I just need to know where you went last night after Chasen’s.”

Rick stared at him curiously, then glanced over at Cates.  “And you needed a cop to help you ask me that?”

Before Solomon answered, Cates cut in.  “Did the limousine bring you straight home, Mr. DeNova?”

Rick closed his eyes, trying to remember.  “Yeah, I guess.  Why?”

Solomon cleared his throat.  “There’s, ah, there’s someone who claims they saw you on Mulholland last night.”

Rick shrugged.  “No surprises there, Louis.  I live off Mulholland.”

Cates stepped toward Rick.  “A girl was murdered last night, and I’ve got a witness who makes you at the crime scene.”

They saw the struggle in Rick’s face as he tried to make sense of the accusation.  Was it guilt that shadowed his eyes?  Cates watched closely as Rick reached over to grab the pack of cigarettes and lighter on his dresser, stalling for time.  His fingers did not shake, nor did he seem particularly upset.  “I told you,” Rick said, sucking down the smoke, “I came straight home.”

“Got anyone to back you up?”

“I need an alibi now?”  Rick exhaled.  “Sounds like I maybe need a lawyer.”

Cates took another threatening step toward him.  “Maybe you do, pal.”

Solomon moved quickly to separate the two.  “I’ll handle this, Darren,” he told the policeman sharply, then turned solicitously to his star.  “Rick – we’re here to help you, nothing more.  We all know something like this could get way out of hand, particularly if reporters got hold of it.”

“Yeah,” Rick said lightly, “I can see how it would.  ‘Cause if I’m Jack the Ripper, that would leave you and your studio kind offucked – wouldn’t it, Louis?”

Pure, unvarnished rage suddenly overtook Solomon and he began to sputter, “Goddamn it, Rick, if you don’t start taking this thing seriously –  ”

“Oh, relax, Louis,” Rick said in a more mollifying tone.  “I didn’t kill anybody.”

“What happened to your forehead, pal?” Cates asked.

Rick was caught short, and reached up to touch the abrasion.  “Christ,” he said, unsure for the first time, looking at his fingers.  “I don’t know.  I fell in the bathroom, I think.”

Solomon glanced unwillingly at the drug paraphernalia on the countertop.

“Ever hear of Teresa Slavin?  Ann Wagner” Cates asked.  “Penny Dupont?”

Rick shook his head.  “Who are they?”

“The victims.”

Rick’s eyes widened.  “So now you think I murdered three women?”  His insouciance vanished.  “Either charge me now, you fat creep, or get the fuck out of my house.”

This was at last too much for Cates.  “Okay, that’s it,” he said.  “I’m going to run you in right now!”

“Darren…!” Solomon said warningly.

Rick took a final drag off his cigarette, and threw the butt on the floor.  “Do it, Chief.  Beats the hell out of starring in that piece of shit French thing we’re making – eh, Louis?”

Solomon spoke carefully, trying to control his voice.  “Rick, I said I’d take care of this, and I will.  You just need to do one thing in return.  Should anyone ask, you got drunk and slept it off at my house last night.  Is that clear?”

Rick shrugged.  “Sure, Louis.  No problem.  But tell me – where was I supposed to be on the nights I killed the other girls?”

Solomon did not answer him.  He instead pushed the seething Cates toward the stairs. They left through the front door accompanied by the sound of Rick’s distant, mocking laughter.

In the Imperial’s front seat, Solomon slumped at the wheel.  His fingernails, Cates noticed, were a pale blue.

“I can’t believe this,” Solomon muttered.  Just the night before he had been on top of the world.  Now here he was, backstroking up a Hollywood gutter again.

I can believe it.”  Cates answered, looking off across the dark cul-de-sac.  “He’s tried everything else…why not murder?”

“He denied it, Darren.”

“I don’t need his confession; I got enough evidence to arrest the bastard already.  You notice his smokes?  They’re that fancy foreign kind.  We found a package of them in Teresa Slavin’s car, and some butts in Penny Dupont’s ashtray.”

“Circumstantial,” Solomon said instantly.

“What about the cut on his forehead…?  I’d bet my life on it that the contents under Dupont’s nails will turn up some of Rick’s skin cells.”

Solomon laid his forehead against his hands that clutched the steering wheel.  “He was doped up.  He fell.  It’s simple.”

Cates shook his head.  “Are you scripting his defense for him, Louis?”

Solomon did not answer.

“This isn’t some Goddamn movie you can rewrite the ending for,” Cates said heatedly.  “This asshole is guilty.  And I’ll tell you something else – I’m through protecting him.  It’s not part of my job description anymore.”

Solomon raised his head from the steering wheel.  “Oh, I don’t think so, Darren,” he said slowly.  “As long as Centurion pays you, you’ll continue to protect him – and for however long I say.”

The cop flared.  “Girls are dead, and I know who the murderer is.  It’s my duty –  ”

Solomon interrupted him with a voice that was the coldest Cates had ever heard.  “Listen to me, you ungrateful shit.  I have receipts, check stubs, withdrawal slips…I’ve bought and paid for you a thousand times over, and I know I’m not the only studio who has.  Don’t think I won’t expose you if I have to.”

Cates remained stone faced.

Solomon continued speaking in the same icy monotone.  “It’s been a lucrative business, hasn’t it, Darren – keeping celebrities out of trouble?  But even in L.A. people like to think their officials are above graft and kickbacks.  Imagine if they found out the truth about their honest, upright boy scout, Darren Cates.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“When it comes to saving my studio, you’ve no idea what I’m capable of doing.”

Cates shook his head in dismay.  “But what if other witnesses come forward, Louis?”  He disliked the pleading note in his voice, and corrected it.  “We already have one.  Someone else could have seen him murdering those other girls, someone we don’t know about yet.”

“Then you’ll stall them, that’s all – throw up a smoke screen until we can think up something better.  I want you to personally handle this case.  None of your other detectives get their mitts on it, understand?”

Cates looked over at the front door of the house.  “What if he kills again, Louis?” he asked.  “You really want that on your conscience, knowing you could have prevented it?”

Solomon stared off into the lengthening shadows.  “What I want is for him to finish this goddamn picture.  What I don’t want is to see my studio destroyed by some…” he paused, almost gagging…“some actor.  Are we quite clear about that, Darren?”

Cates reluctantly nodded.  If he were any kind of hero, he’d make a clean breast of it to his superiors, take the consequences, and get a murderer off the streets.  But there were his wife and three daughters to think about.  The resulting scandal would kill them.  He had known that someday it might all catch up to him, but had never expected that it would happen so soon.  But there was yet time to correct it all.  He would need to play it very slowly, very low-key.  Somehow, he’d nail Rick DeNova’s guinea ass.  As well, there was some minimal relief in knowing that a sizeable check from Centurion Studios would be pushed through his mail slot by next morning.

Want to keep reading? Downoad the book, by clicking here for Kindle and here for eBook. iPad users know what to do, download the book through iTunes Books. 

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5 Responses to “Excerpt, The Stand In”

  1. Elizabeth Hall Magill January 11, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Great excerpt! I’m particularly intrigued by the cop–I’d wondered why Louis was feeding Rick an alibi in front of a cop, and the answer was an unexpected twist! Also, I love the phrase “backstroking up a Hollywood gutter.”

    • Brad Geagley January 11, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Ahhhh, Elizabeth, you are a great reader. Please read the whole novel, so I can hear your thoughts. You have fantastic insight, my friend.
      Best,
      Brad

  2. jan January 12, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Many readers want to hear about dirty Hollywood. Got to be some good people there ! Some where ! I like movies and books….
    Hate what drugs are doing to the human race… Why can’t we stop it? Yeah, money.

    Look forward to seeing your book in the library….. about all I can afford right now… sigh…..
    Thanks for ‘liking’ my blog posting.
    good luck with your book !! It will make a real thriller of a movie !
    janet

    • Brad Geagley January 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      Janet,
      There’s lots of Hollywood dish in the book! That’s what growing up in the industry does for you… the stories I could (will) tell! If you can download electronic copies at your library, you’ll be able to read it soon. I would bring the price even lower than $3.99 if I could.
      Best,
      Brad

  3. yhosby January 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Hey Brad,
    Your story sounds interesting. I’ll give it a try on my Kindle and post a book review on my blog (as part of my reading challenge). Congratulations on going the indie route of publishing–don’t let the Vicki’s scare you off LOL.

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

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