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"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip ..." —The Wellingtons, "Gilligan's Island" (CBS)
I SAW STARS. NOT the heavenly kind, the inside-your-head kind.
I couldn't see much past the dazzle in front of my eyes, but I could hear the champagne bottle, or the rolling pin, or whatever, that had pounded the lights in there as it rolled around the unsteady deck of the S.S. Caribbean Comet.
I should have been rolling around on the deck, too, but I've always had a thick skull. And I've always been too stupid to know when to lie down. So I fought the dazzle, fought the pain, fought the near-hurricane force wind and rain that filled my throat every time I tried to open my mouth for a simple breath of air, all in an attempt to keep my feet.
I succeeded, if you want to call staggering like a drunk on a rapidly tilting surface keeping your feet.
The strange thing was, I didn't really care too much about keeping my feet. That was instinct. What I wanted to do was to see. There was a three-, possibly a four-time killer on the deck with me, and I think my friend's little love tap to my skull was an attempt to make ace. The M.O. was familiar—the smack to the back of the skull to start things off, followed by all sorts of indignities. I was fighting for my life. I faced the possibility that I might lose (bright little bombs were still going off in my head), but dammit, I wanted to know who was doing it to me.
I rubbed my eyes in an effort to clear my vision, but succeeded only in changing the constellations around a little. The wind blew; the boat tilted. I staggered into a bulkhead. Good, I thought. There are people in there. Miserable, seasick people, but possible help. I started groping around for a hatch.
The Caribbean Comet sloshed down the other side of a wave, and the deck fell away from the bulkhead. I started sliding back toward what must be the rail.
This time, I had help. My friend had caught up with me, and was giving me a strong push in the small of the back. I smashed into the rail. The breath whooshing out of my lungs was lost in the gale. I bent double over the rail, but I held on. The pushing continued. The pushing was winning.
Now my eyes cleared. Thanks a lot, I thought. I was looking at water. There was hot rain whipping into my face, and a hundred feet or so below me the Atlantic slapped up white- fingered hands to grab me.
The way it got Schaeffer, I thought, though I still had no proof of that. But Janski and Burkehart had died, and I was about to join them.
It wasn't that my assailant was using so much strength against me, it was the leverage. I could feel my head going down and my feet coming up, and I didn't really have the strength to fight. So far on this trip, I had survived the Network PR department, the Mafia, the Royal St. David's Island Constabulary, one surly pseudosailor, one homicidal chef, seasickness, one pissed-off dog, one acrobatic librarian, six mystery writers, and a hundred overenthusiastic mystery fans. Added to one decidedly major-league bop on the head, it had all taken a lot out of me. I was on my way into the drink. I roared curses into the hurricane until my throat hurt. It didn't help. The more I struggled, the less my feet gripped the deck.
Then a strange thing happened. Another pain forced its way through all the pain that was taking up my attention. It wasn't much, just something digging into my right thigh where it was pressed against the rail. I even knew what it was—a little curved triangle of beige plastic. I'd picked it up a few days ago, and hadn't taken it out of the pants since I'd worn them last.
And suddenly I saw where the piece of plastic fit. I saw where everything fit, and I knew who was trying to kill me. The knowledge made me furious. I would get out of this. I had maybe two seconds to figure out how, but I would.
It turned out to be less than two seconds. My feet came clear of the deck, and suddenly, I was going over.CHAPTER 2
"Sherman, set the Wayback Machine ..." —Bill Scott
"The Bullwinkle Show" (NBC)
FALL IS MY FAVORITE time of year in New York. The air is as fresh then as it ever gets, and the sky, where you can see it, gets bluer than any sky anywhere. You can walk a couple of blocks in your suit and not be dripping sweat when you arrive. I cherished my early autumns in the city. Now I was going to have to give up a two-week slice of it.
"You're a lucky bastard, Cobb," Marv Bachman told me. Marv was a cheerful-looking, heavyset guy who probably smoked cigars in the shower. Marv was general manager of 102 Dynamite!, which in more sober days had been WTCB-FM, the Network's local FM station. It was our month to lead in the merry-go-round that was New York market radio ratings, so Marv was even more cheerful than usual.
"I'm glad he disappeared," Marv said. "Saves me the trouble of firing him. His days were numbered, anyway."
"Does that mean I can call off the search?"
"The search?" Marv looked blank.
"My people have been turning the city over looking for Joe Jenkins. Robert Joseph Janski.
"Yeah, I know the son of a bitch. To my regret. Why?"
"Cobb, I think you do need a vacation. Why are you looking for him? To hell with him."
I took a deep breath, held it for a second, then proceeded calmly. "We are looking for him because that's our job."
It was part of our job, anyway. The sign on my door—white on black, no frills, like everything else around here—SAYS MATT COBB, VICE PRESIDENT, SPECIAL PROJECTS. My corporate bio says I am the youngest vice president at the Network, but that is only in terms of years. Special Projects tends to age a man. "Special Projects," as defined at the Network, is sort of a Public Un-relations department. When someone at the Network needs to have something found or learned or done, with a reasonable assurance they're not going to read about it in the newspapers, they come to us. Remember that story a while back about the actor who was going to play John Lennon in a TV movie, but got fired because it turned out his real name was the same as that of Lennon's assassin? That was special projects work, or whatever that other network's euphemism happens to be. It was sloppy special projects work, since the story got out, but things would have been a lot more embarrassing had the story gotten out after the millions were spent and the movie was in the can.
I didn't point this out to Marv. He knew it. "We are also looking for him," I went on, "because seventeen days ago, when he first failed to turn up for his shift, you called me up and acted as if someone had kidnapped your baby."
"The station is my baby," Marv said, and meant it. "I'd spent a fortune promoting that asshole, and the P.M. drive slot is important. You get them in the cars coming home, they've got to listen to the commercials."
"That's a reason to keep looking, Marv."
"To hell with him, I keep telling you. He was a cokehead, anyway."
"I told you that. That he used to be. It's what got him fired in St. Louis. He's been clean for three years. You knew all this when you hired him."
Marv puffed his cigar and smiled. "Yeah, well he must have backslid, right? Or else why did he disappear? To hell with him. Besides, this black guy I got filling in for him is fantastic."
"Marv, Willie Wright has been the weekend man for six years."
"Yeah, but the asshole never told me he was a minister."
"He's got a little storefront congregation in Bed-Stuy. Does a lot of good."
"You knew this? You could have done me a lot of good and told me. Am I the only one with brains around here? Do you hear the crap music we have to play? 'Come into my darkroom of love, oooh, baby baby, and we'll see what develops'? 'My love is like polio vaccine, it's more fun if you take it by mouth'?"
"Those are not real lyrics."
"No," Marv conceded. "Mostly, what we've got is fake drums and lascivious groans. But it doesn't matter. Because now that it's out that Willie is a minister, he plays the crap, and comes on and explains the Real Holy Lesson in the song. On one station, the listener can get sermons and filth. The numbers are dynamite."
"Ah," I said.
"Ah," Marv echoed. "So to hell with Joe goddam Jenkins. He can suck Boraxo up his nose, for all I care."
"Right," I said noncommittally. The Network had a high six-figure contract with Joe Jenkins. The accounting and legal departments would want us to keep looking.
But Marv didn't need to know that, even if he would have listened. Not listening to things you don't want to hear is one of the keys to success in show business, and Marv was a master at it.
"So what's the problem?" I asked. "You could have told me this on the phone."
"The problem is that cockamamie mystery contest you got us into."
My first instinct was denial, but that wouldn't have done any good. I had gotten WTCB-FM into it. I have a friend who's a mystery writer, and through him I met a couple of people named Karen and Bill Palmer. They own Bogie's, the chief mystery writers' hangout in New York. Sort of like a specialized Elaine's, only the drinks are cheaper. They also give jujitsu lessons (both hold black belts), host a cable TV show about the martial arts, write books about martial-arts movies, and add to first-rate collections of mysteries, science- fiction books, and films on tape.
In their spare time, they run Bogie's Murderous Mystery Tours, where fans get to go to some interesting place, hobnob with mystery writers, and play detective as they try to unravel an old-fashioned, fair-play murder mystery staged during the course of the weekend, week, or month the event lasts.
The key to running a thing like that, of course, is publicity, and the freer the better. One day, when I was having a drink at Bogie's with my writer friend, Karen said she wished she had access to the Network. I gave her a phone number, and told her to mention my name. She left the bar and went into the office. Ten minutes later, she came back smiling, stood on tiptoe, and gave me a kiss.
It was only a little peck on the cheek but when jujitsu experts' wives go kissing me, the first thing I do is check around for the husband. Billy is about a half a foot shorter than I am, but I've seen him at the heavy bag, and have no desire to fill in for it.
"What was that all about?" I said.
"It's all set," Karen said. "Network publicity said Jim Jenkins was looking for a contest to run on his show—"
"Joe Jenkins," I said.
"Joe? Are you sure?" She always does that. I've often thought she could be the one person in the world who could claim total innocence if she called the wrong name in bed.
"Oh, okay. Anyway, we're going to work up a contest, mystery trivia, for a week. We'll get some books autographed to give as prizes for the callers, then we'll have a drawing of the correct callers, and the winner will go on the cruise with us."
"Where to?" I asked idly.
"St. Daniel's Island in the Caribbean. They just got a new administration—"
"St. David's Island."
"Are you sure?"
"There is no St. Daniel."
She looked at Billy, who paused in wiping some beer glasses long enough to nod assent. He's Catholic; Karen is Jewish.
"Whatever," Karen went on. "They've just got a new government in, and they and the cruise line want to promote tourism, so we got a deal—"
Billy's dark brown eyes opened wide, and his western-bandit moustache stretched over a grin. "It just sank in. We're getting a week's publicity on the Network's station? On Joe Jenkins's show?"
"I've just been telling you."
He pointed at me. "Kiss him again," he told his wife. "If you don't, I will."
So they had the contest, and everybody had been happy. At least, I thought they'd been happy.
"All right," I said, "I got you into it. Me and Jenkins and the publicity department. The contest's over, isn't it?"
"No," Marv said, "the contest isn't over. This Janice Cullen still has to collect her prize, her and her boyfriend or husband or mother or whatever she wants to bring."
"And the cruise starts Saturday, right?"
"Right. But part of the prize was that Jenkins was going to take his vacation, and go along with a tape recorder, and record reactions, how beautiful the Island is and all that crap, and then play them on the show when he gets back. And now he's not here."
"Send another jock," I suggested.
"Such as whom, for instance? I've got my relief man, who is all of a sudden my star attraction, holding down a regular shift. I've got nobody to send until I hire another fill-in."
"Then don't send anybody. I'm sure the contest winner can live without Jenkins as well as you can. The tape stuff would just be more free publicity you'd have to give away."
"That's just the point."
"What's the point? Did you buy into the Palmers' business or something?"
"No, I didn't buy into the Palmers' business or something. I negotiated an advertising and promotional consideration deal with the St. David's Island tourist board that will be worth millions in free junkets to tired Network executives alone. Then there's the money from the ads themselves—"
"How did you do this?"
"They practically begged me to take it. They want to become a major league tourist attraction in a hurry. I think there's a lot of Hong Kong money in this. You know, trying to get as much money out of Hong Kong as they can before the Reds take over."
"So somebody's got to go because you promised postcruise publicity to the tourist bureau."
"You got it. And I've got nobody to send."
"You want me to send somebody, then."
He pointed his cigar at the middle of my chest. "I want you to send you."
My mind screamed no, oh God, no—not in the middle of the football season! My voice remained calm. "I can't just pick up and leave, Marv."
"Sure you can. I already cleared it with everybody."
"Everybody from Falzet on down." Tom Falzet was President and Chairman of the Board of the Network. I wondered how he knew I liked cool weather and football better than sunburn and seasickness. Falzet's feelings for me were such that he'd never arrange for me to go on a cruise if he thought for a second I might enjoy it.
"I'm beginning to feel sorry for the Islanders," I said. "Against you, they didn't have a chance."
"Davidians," he said. "They like to be called Davidians." I wanted to ask him if he was sure. "My position is this," Marv went on. "If I can't give them a star, I'm going to at least give them a vice president. You can work a tape recorder, can't you?"
When I first came to the Network, I was (briefly) a gopher in local TV news. "I'll puzzle it out," I told him.
"Good," Marv said. "Then it's all set with you, too. Besides, you were asked for. By name. When I talked this over with your friends, they got all excited, how wonderful it would be to have you along on the trip. So I guess you're going."
"I'm going," I sighed. I reflected that my problem was that I had too goddam many friends.CHAPTER 3
"Now let's meet today's contestants." —Alex Trebek
THE PRIZE HAD BEEN, as prizes in these contests so often are, for "you and a guest." The "you" in this case was Janice Cullen, a former air stewardess who now owned Wooly Thinking, a boutique on Columbus Avenue in the Seventies. For those of you who haven't been to New York recently, or who have gotten your idea of that neighborhood exclusively from West Side Story, things have changed. The Upper West Side, especially Columbus Avenue, has become sort of a Greenwich Village for Yuppies. Knowing what commercial rents were like in that neighborhood, I decided one must be able to put away a lot of money on a flight attendant's salary, or that Janice Cullen had been bootlegging airline tickets. Of course, she might merely have been up to her eyeballs in hock to the bank; in which case it was extremely irresponsible for her to take eight days on the bounding main, no matter how many contests she'd won.
The guest was to be Kenni Clayton. Ms. Kenni Clayton, as it said on all the paperwork. That was all anybody knew about her, except that she lived at the same address Janice Cullen did.
It was useless to speculate, but that wouldn't stop Marv Bachman. "Probably a pair of goddam dykes," he speculated. "All we need to impress the new government, our contest winners get off the boat, they've got shoulders like linebackers, they wear tweed jackets, they've got hair under their arms."
Excerpted from Killed in Paradise by William L. DeAndrea. Copyright © 1988 William L. DeAndrea. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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