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THE HOLLYWOOD PARTY
Shane Scully sure didn't want to go to this Hollywood party. It was way the hell out in Malibu, and except for Nora Bishop, he and his wife, Alexa, weren't going to know anybody there. The party was to announce Nora's engagement to a movie producer named Farrell Champion, whom neither of them had met. Making it even worse, Shane and Alexa were cops and would probably stand out like psychiatrists at a Star Trek convention. They didn't understand movie people or Hollywood, with its strange language and customs. So Shane was more or less dreading it.
Alexa, on the other hand, could barely contain her excitement. She had spent at least two hours getting ready, which to tell the truth kind of pissed him off. One of the things he prized most about his beautiful black-haired wife was that she never made a big deal out of her appearance. She could show up most places wearing a horse blanket and look better than anybody there.
But all afternoon she had dithered and fussed until it had made them hopelessly late.
"You think these earrings are too gaudy? You think this blue-and-red scarf is too much with the tan skirt ...?"
"No, looks great ... love it ..." But it didn't matter what he thought, because she would just wrinkle her nose and stare at the clothing on the bed, then pull out a new ensemble.
Shane had dressed quickly, showering and combing his short black hair with his fingers. He glanced at his rugged angular face in the mirror. He was in his late thirties and his bony cheeks and hard, deep-set eyes reminded him of an over-the-hill, beat-up street fighter. It always surprised him when someone described him as handsome. At least, he marveled, he'd been lucky enough to jump the many hurdles required to marry the most beautiful woman on the LAPD.
They finally got in his Acura at five-thirty, left Venice, California, and headed toward Malibu. They were almost an hour late when they passed the old Getty Museum, then the Malibu Pier. Shane drove while Alexa chattered nervously.
"That last guy Nora dated, remember him, Shane? The one who traded futures on the stock exchange?"
"Yeah. Bill something, with the dimple in his chin ..."
"That fucking dimple was a surgical add-on," Alexa growled. "Boy, was I glad when Nora gave him the old flusheroo."
"Yep. Bill was sleaze."
"And remember Paul Bennett? Remember him? How on earth Nora ever decided to get entangled with Paul Bennett, with his polo ponies, which everyone thought he owned but it turned out he just rented, and the rented Ferrari ... he should've rented a personality."
"Yeah, Paul was definitely toe-jam. A skunk."
She turned and looked at him. "Are you humoring me, buddy?" She smiled.
"I agree Nora's been flying in a bug storm, but we don't know anything about this new guy either, except that he has a great press agent. He's in almost every national magazine."
"Whatta you mean we don't know? I've been talking to Nora about Farrell Champion since she started to decorate his Malibu house last year. He's the real deal-A-list all the way-and she's so happy, Shane. At last I think she's found Mr. Right."
"Yep, yep ... pretty exciting." God, he was dreading this party.
When they passed the Serra Retreat, the former mansion of the woman who once owned twenty miles of California coastline, Shane slowed the Acura and picked up the expensive invitation. It had a slightly corny Hollywood theme. On the top of the embossed card it said: "It's a Wrap on Farrell's Bachelorhood." There were some old-fashioned drawings of 35mm movie cameras, underscored by the inscription: "Come Help Us Celebrate Farrell's Biggest Epic Yet ... It's a Love Story."
He flipped it open to the map that showed where Farrell Champion's house was located behind the Colony gates in Malibu.
"I hate being late. Maybe we should just call in sick," he suggested, grinning.
"Nothing doing, you coward. Besides, I want to see the stars. I hear Julia Roberts is going to be there. Farrell produced one of her movies last year, and Nora said even Robert Downey, Jr."
"Shit, and us without our drug kits."
She punched him. "Stop it." She smiled. "You're gonna love it."
Seconds later they turned off the Coast Highway into the Colony. They pulled up to the guard, who frowned at the unwashed Acura. Then came the ritual giving and checking of names, the showing of the invitation.
They were validated.
A short drive down into the Malibu Colony and they were handing the dusty Acura over to a valet with surfer-blond hair wearing a red coat with gold buttons. It fit him better than Shane's blue blazer. Another valet was just driving a white Bentley away from in front of the house.
There were still a few tardy arrivals lined up at the front door. "See, we're not that late," Alexa said as she and Shane headed up the stone walkway.
Farrell Champion had built a French Provincial on two oceanfront lots. The house was grotesquely large, dwarfing its neighbors, and Shane thought it seemed pretentious and out of place, only forty yards from the crashing surf.
They got in line behind a beautiful woman who was wearing a beaded dress, very low cut, and an older gentleman with silver hair in a tuxedo with a black silk shirt-they looked like Bentley owners.
"We're underdressed," Alexa hissed in his ear as she looked at the woman's evening gown. Alexa had ended up wearing a white pantsuit with a wide belt and sandals. She looked gorgeous. Her blue eyes and sculpted face dominated a slender, athletic body.
Shane whispered back, "How can you underdress for a beach barbecue?"
The couple in front stepped over the threshold and Shane could hear a booming voice he guessed was Farrell Champion's, followed by Nora Bishop's tinkling laugh.
"Boris." Farrell's baritone. "Great opening weekend grosses on Horizon of the Damned. You're up five percent prorated from holiday weekend totals last year."
"But the P and A sure set us back a bundle," the tuxedoed man replied. "It's a step release. We're going wide next week ... twenty-six hundred screens."
"Thelma, you look devastating, as always...." Farrell again.
"Sorry about being so overdressed, Farrell. We're leaving here for Calvin's opening at the Taper."
Shane heard Alexa let out a sigh.
After a few air kisses, Thelma and Boris moved on.
Alexa was holding Shane's hand and she gave it a little hopeful squeeze. It was their turn. Show time.
They stepped into the magnificent, antiques-laden entry hall and Shane hugged Nora. She was a beautiful, dark-haired, forty-five-year-old woman with a sweet, tender quality that always made him want to protect her. She was also one of L.A.'s premiere interior decorators. In the last few years, Bishop Interiors had done a lot of the big homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and the Palisades. And despite her exposure to some of L.A.'s most demanding A-type personalities, Nora never provoked any discontent. She had a way of getting you to behave by making you feel good about yourself. She was ten years older than Alexa, and had been Alexa's babysitter back in Michigan when she was twelve. That was the year after Alexa's mother had died. Shane had always wondered if Nora's move to L.A. foreshadowed his wife's decision to come West as well, as if she needed to be close to Nora, who was like a big sister or maybe even a surrogate mother.
Alexa usually projected strength and determination, but around Nora she became strangely girlish. With Nora, she giggled. Sometimes, as Shane watched them together, he would get a glimpse of what his wife must have been like as a child.
"Shane, Alexa, thank you guys for coming. You're the best." Nora flashed her irresistible smile, then hugged Alexa. "I love that outfit, where did you get it?"
"This? It was on sale at May Company." Alexa wrinkled her nose in apology. "It's just an Adrienne Vittadini copy."
"On you it looks like a Dior original." Nora turned to the handsome fifty-five-year-old man beside her. "You guys haven't met Farrell. Farrell, these are my dearest friends in L.A., the Scullys."
Farrell grinned, and they shook hands and all started frantically searching for common ground.
"Nora, you didn't tell me Alexa would be so sexy. This is no meter maid you've got here, Shane."
Nine out of ten guys who said something like that would have pissed Shane off. Not that he was overly jealous, but there was some primal piece of him that didn't like handsome guys fawning over his wife or calling her sexy. But Farrell got away with it. Something in Farrell's demeanor said "Just kidding, don't take this the wrong way." He had a personality ... Shane hated the word, but okay, a vibe that was warm, engaging, and funny. In seconds, Shane could feel himself being won over.
Furthermore, Farrell Champion was extremely attractive and his looks drew you to him. He was fit, but not musclebound, not a fanatic. His silver-gray hair was swept back off his tanned forehead and his dark eyes looked right at you, focusing, making you feel important.
"What a beautiful house.... It's refreshing to see this kind of architecture on the beach." Shane couldn't believe such an egregiously phony sentence had come gushing out of him.
"Making movies isn't brain surgery, Shane. You gotta take all of this with a grain of salt," Farrell whispered with a wink. "No matter what anybody tells you, show business isn't creative art, it's a racket."
"Did you see the engagement ring?" Nora said, throwing her hand out for Alexa's examination. The diamond was huge-over six carats.
"My God, Nora, you must need someone to carry your hand around for you."
Farrell grinned. "Listen, you guys, I think everyone's here now, so I can stop standing in the entry like a nervous doorman. Come on in. Shane, can I get you and Alexa something? How about some white wine, or I have mixed drinks."
"Alexa likes chardonnay, I'll take scotch," Shane said.
Farrell steered Nora and Alexa into the plush living room full of beautiful people, then left them staring at the high-profile crowd while he headed toward the bar. Alexa grabbed Nora's hand and squeezed it.
"My God, Nora ... he's gorgeous."
"Not bad, huh?" Nora grinned back. "After all those foul tips, I finally got some wood on the ball."
Shane nodded and smiled broadly, the kind of smile you wear when you can't think of a damn thing to say. He had come here fully prepared to hate Farrell Champion ... hate him for his fame and success, his wealth and connections; hate him just for having a name like Farrell Champion. But in forty-five seconds or less, while standing in the doorway, Farrell had completely rewired all those feelings, leaving Shane groping for a new take.
Shane's eyes were sweeping the party. Everybody who was anybody in L.A. was there. He spotted faces he had only seen in People magazine.
"There's Kobe Bryant," he whispered, seeing the Lakers' great only a few feet away talking to ex-Mayor Riordan. Then Farrell was back, handing out drinks.
"Alexa, you had chardonnay ... Shane, scotch rocks-that's Dewar's, hope you like it ... Nora, here's your Campari and soda." Then Farrell took them both by the arm and steered them through the room. "Come on, let me introduce you to some friends." So off they went, on a celebrity tour of L.A.
"Nicole Kidman, this is Nora's dear friend Alexa Scully and her husband, Shane." The beautiful Australian actress smiled warmly, shook their hands, and they exchanged a few remarks. Then Farrell moved them on. "And this is L.A.'s resident bad boy, Jack the Mack ... Jacko, want you to meet some friends of Nora's ..." Jack fucking Nicholson, Shane thought, feeling starstruck as he shook the famous actor's hand.
More small talk until Farrell carried them along.... "Barbra and Jim live just down the street. Meet Nora's dear friends, Shane and Alexa." It was Streisand and Brolin.
It went on like that until finally Alexa got pulled away by Nora to meet some of the other bridesmaids, and Shane had to go to the bathroom. He used the one in the hall, thinking he was having a great time in spite of himself. This was one pretty amazing party.
When Shane came out of the bathroom he ran into the last person he would have ever expected to find at Farrell Champion's house.
THE BAD JOKE
Nicky Marcella was waiting to get into the guest john as Shane exited. They looked at each other like competing art thieves casing a Sotheby's auction.
"My God, Shane Scully," Nicky said. He was wearing a beautifully tailored, if somewhat gaudy, orangish-brown suit-or was it brownish-orange?-hard to tell because the colors strobed when he moved. Either way, it took some doing to pull off. Maybe the suit was helped by the fact that there wasn't all that much of it-Nicky being only five-foot-five, top to bottom, including his stacked Cuban heels. He was also rail thin-Mick Jagger thin. He had black hair, close-cut on the sides and slightly longer on the top. He was wearing an open-collared silk shirt with a few too many gold chains. His smile was warm, but he was narrow-faced and strangely ferretlike.
"Nicky, how you been?"
"Staying outta jail, I'll tell you that much."
"Glad to hear it," Shane said, and he was. He hadn't seen Marcella in four years. Nicky was a Hollywood character. When Shane met him he was doing street-corner cons-green-goods hustles and pigeon drops. Shane had first busted him when he was still a rookie working vice in Hollywood. He'd rolled him up twice more in the Valley when he was riding around in a plain Jane doing a straight eight in uniform. Sometime in the mid-nineties Nicky had switched from short cons to running bets for bookmakers, then had taken a short fall and ended up doing a bullet in County. When he got out, he moved on to straight-up bookmaking, writing betting slips out of a porn shop on Little Melrose. Nicky Marcella had dabbled in the criminal arts for almost the whole fifteen years Shane had known him, and now here he was, in Farrell Champion's house, rubbing shoulders with Hollywood's elite.
"Whatta you up to? Or should I just count the silver?" Shane smiled.
"Can't blame you for that, Shane. But I'm clean as the Board of Health these days. Just a minute, don't go away, gotta tap a kidney."
Nicky pushed past him into the bathroom while Shane stood outside wondering what on earth Nicky Marcella was doing at this party full of heavy-lifters. Even so, Shane had to admit that, over the years, he'd come to enjoy the guy. Nicky had an infectious personality and never took himself too seriously. Of course, he was shamefully easy to arrest, a wonderful quality in a criminal.
Copyright © 2003 by Stephen J. Cannell