Bottom Feeders: A Novel

Bottom Feeders: A Novel

by John Shepphird

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781538469200
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Sales rank: 1,341,083
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

John Shepphird is a writer and director of nine feature films and hours of television. His credits include SyFy Channel's Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Chupacabra Terror, and ABC Family's I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. He is an award-winning author with a continuing private-eye series published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.


Bronson Pinchot, an Audie Award-winning narrator and Audible's Narrator of the Year for 2010, received his education at Yale University, which filled out what he had already received at his mother's knee in the all-important areas of Shakespeare, Greek art and architecture, and the Italian Renaissance. He restores Greek Revival buildings and appears in television, film, and on stage whenever the pilasters and entablatures overwhelm him.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

It had been a year since his last cigarette — before the doctor gave Ted the fright. The message was loud and clear. He'd stopped smoking, tried to exercise more, and worked on eating a low-cholesterol diet. But this was fate; a half pack of Marlboros left behind in the leather console of his rental car, a book of matches tucked snugly in the pristine cellophane. Once Ted caught the scent of the ripe tobacco — what the hell. This was a seductive gift from the gods. His wife would never know.

The only dilemma: there was no ashtray.

Always the problem solver, Ted fashioned a crude paper triangle out of the Hertz rental contract. Proud of his origami ingenuity, he put flame to the cig and savored the smoke, a warming sensation he hadn't experienced in a long, long time.

Ted was the Vice President of Sales for Artemis Industries, a pharmaceutical research firm, headed to the Advances in Immunodiagnostic Assays Conference. The sky was overcast, threatening rain, and it was getting dark. Upgraded from a midsize SUV to a luxury sport vehicle, he maneuvered the Mazda up the windy mountain road. This car had guts. It made Ted feel powerful.

Tonight, he would go through the tedious motions of pinning on his name tag, flashing his always-professional smile, and making an appearance at the welcome cocktail reception. In his midfifties and carrying more paunch then he cared to admit, Ted would suffer through the speech-laden dinner and, afterwards, obligatory drinks and forced camaraderie in the hotel bar. It went with the job — employment he sensed would not last long. The batch of young salesmen among the ranks would ultimately prove to be a cheaper solution. There had already been one round of downsizing. It was the company's health insurance he needed most, for his wife's treatment. Ted long ago came to realize he was, sadly, a slave to medical benefits. With luck, maybe he could squeak out another four or five years before being forced to retire.

He so hated that this year's conference was up in Lake Arrowhead. The Granite Springs Hotel & Spa, for Chrissake! Did someone's fat-assed secretary pick the destination? What the hell? Last year the conference was at the Westin in Palm Springs, with golf, so why this sudden change in venue? More wasted time and bullshit.

Now Google Maps on his iPhone wasn't working. Bad directions had him searching for a street sign. He hadn't seen another vehicle for a while. Something told him he had taken a wrong turn.

He struck a match and was igniting a second cigarette when BAM!

The deer smashed into the windshield, cracked the glass, and flew over the top of the car. The airbag inflated into his face and he slammed the brakes. The Mazda slid sideways onto the rocky shoulder before coming to a stop.

Holy shit!

Getting out, he first heard the deer squealing before he saw the poor, wounded animal writhing on the black pavement. He examined the rental car — its grill was shattered, hood mangled, windshield fractured. There was even bloody fur caught in the satellite-radio antenna.

Fucking thing came out of nowhere.

He approached the wounded animal.

One large, glassy eye stared back at him in pure terror. It was trying to get up but its hind leg was bent back grotesquely. There was blood coming out of its mouth and it was shaking in a spasm.

Ted felt nauseous and wondered if he was going to throw up. He reached for his cell phone to dial 9-1-1. No service. Shit. He stepped closer. The animal's desperate whine subsided. It was now wheezing, chest heaving, struggling at the edge of death.

It broke Ted's heart. He felt incredibly guilty. This is all my fault. If he hadn't gone for another cigarette maybe he could have swerved to avoid the damn thing.

There was a milky secretion coming out of the deer's eyes. Tears? Ted felt helpless and didn't know what to do. Then it came to him. Put it out of its misery. It's the humane thing to do.

He searched the side of the road, came across a good-sized rock. He picked it up with both hands — figured it was probably heavy enough to crush the animal's skull. As he approached, the deer tried to scramble away but its hooves gained little traction on the pavement and loose gravel.

Forgive me.

With both hands, he raised the hefty rock above his head.

That big eye stared back.

Im sorry.

He brought the rock down. The blow was not a direct hit and the deer panicked, flopping like a fish out of water. Ted picked up the rock again and brought it down with even more force. That blow disfigured the animal's skull but it was still quivering in a violent, horrible spasm.

Shit!

Tears streaming, he picked up the rock again, hefted it high, and brought it down again with all his might. The sound was crunchy and the deer moved no more.

Finally. Thank God.

Gasping for air and now covered in sweat, Ted turned away and vomited. He could taste the cigarette in his bile.

Bent over, hands on his knees, catching his breath, he looked up, surprised to see a Ford Explorer idling forty yards up the road.

There was a faint silhouette — someone in the driver's seat.

Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he found it odd the SUV just sat there. He wondered how much of the incident the driver had seen. Ted moved toward it, waving his arms for help.

The Explorer backed up, spun around, and was off.

Ted watched as it disappeared around the bend. Whoever it was must have seen him killing the deer — probably spooked. The only sound was the wispy wind through the trees. He tried his cell phone again. Still no reception.

Ted returned to the rental car and discovered a flat tire. He decided he better change it before it got dark. In the meantime, hopefully, someone would come along and drive him back to civilization.

He opened the trunk and lifted the carpet. He could not believe how rinky-dink the spare tire was. He retrieved the mini jack and lug wrench, and pried the plastic hubcap off. They sure as hell don't make cars like they used to. Moments later he had the lug nuts loose and was on one knee, struggling with the scissor jack.

That's when he heard a loud pop beside him.

An arrow stuck out of the car's quarter panel. Arrow? Is someone hunting deer? Then a sharp pain ripped into his back.

He spun around, reached back and felt the shaft. Fuck! A second arrow hit him in the chest. He grabbed that one's black carbon shaft and could feel the sharp point wedged between his ribs, an icy sensation.

Oh, God! Run.

Ted made a break for the opposite side of the road. He reached the tall weeds when the third arrow ripped into his lower back and sent him tumbling. Falling hard, he drove the other arrow deeper into his chest. He tried to scramble to his feet but somehow had lost control of his legs.

Im going to die.

Ted tried again but his legs failed him, as if stuck in mud.

Heaving, in shock, his lungs burned as he heard someone approach behind him. All he could make out was a dark figure, in silhouette, standing over the fallen deer.

He watched as the figure set down the bow and picked up the rock.

Ted crawled, tried to reach the trees. Hide. Get away.

Hearing footsteps near, Ted rolled back. Hands up, defensive, he eyed the silhouette and big rock raised against the murky sky.

"I didn't mean it ... I ..."

An explosion — then all went black. After the ringing in his ears faded away, he could hear a peaceful wind brushing the trees.

Then there was nothing.

CHAPTER 2

Eddie Lyons had the routine down: wear a sports jacket; pay general admission; sneak into the Turf Club.

Just like he had many times before, Eddie waited beside the Santa Anita paddock for the outriders and jockeys to guide the exquisite thoroughbreds into the grandstand tunnel leading out to the track. Then Eddie made his move. He blended in with the well-heeled owners and trainers and followed them to the elevators — no hand stamp required. Once inside the Turf Club, Eddie wedged up to the bar, a neutral spot that didn't require a seat ticket. Pockets loaded with airline-sized minis, he ordered a club soda and spread out his Daily Racing Form.

For out-of-work television director Eddie Lyons, it was going to be small bets today. Hit a few — then play with the track's money. That's the idea. "Conserving cash is the key," he'd explained to a fellow handicapper just the other day. "That's what separates the winners from the losers."

Eddie could bet and watch the races at home, or even streaming on his cell phone, but that wasn't the same. He came to Santa Anita to mix and schmooze if the opportunity presented itself. Staying in the consciousness of Hollywood power (among individuals who can green-light a project) took dedication. And sharing the passion of horseracing had proven successful for him in the past. A few years ago, an aging network executive hired Eddie to direct a television pilot after the guy hit a trifecta from a tip Eddie had offered. Unfortunately, the pilot never got picked up, and Eddie's further picks never panned out.

Story of my life.

Besides, the racetrack was so much cheaper than Laker games, especially with Eddie's backdoor system. Sure, there were plenty of well-connected agents, stars, and executives at Laker games, but who could afford those seats? And nobody talks business when the game is in play. Horseracing is entirely different. There is plenty of time between races, socializing being such an integral part of the Sport of Kings.

When he was certain the bartender wasn't looking, Eddie poured himself a clandestine double. The sip soothed him, his first taste of the day. All good. Minutes later he was handicapping a maiden claiming race on a special Columbus Day Monday card when his cell phone rang. The readout displayed a three-one-zero area code, Los Angeles, Westside. Confident it wasn't another collection agency, Eddie picked up.

"This is Ed."

"Eddie ... It's Mike Monroe."

He recognized the voice. Michael was Sam Carver's cocky, twenty-something assistant. Carver Entertainment produced made-for-television movies and they'd hired Eddie about a year ago to direct one of their cheapies, a woman-in-peril thriller shot mostly on recycled sets.

"Hey Mike. What's up?" Eddie said upbeat.

"Inquiring if you're available to come by the office today? Sam wants to see you."

"Always available for Sam," Eddie replied. Sam was an old-school producer, no nonsense, but very cheap. "What's going on?"

"He wants to talk to you about a Tami Romans thing."

Eddie knew Tami Romans — an aging actress who once starred in a popular television series. The last time Eddie saw Tami was on a late-night infomercial pitching some kind of antiaging beauty treatment.

"Tami's good," Eddie said even though he'd heard she can be difficult. Stay positive. Get the job. "What's the project?"

"It's kind of a Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman sorta deal for Majestic Channel. Remember that show?"

"Sure."

"Sam thought of you because it's a tight schedule. Can you get here in an hour?"

Eddie checked his watch. He was certain he could make it but figured he'd build in a little time contingency so he didn't have to rush. "How about three-thirty. That work?"

"Sounds good."

"See you then."

Eddie finished his drink and grabbed his coat. A Western? he thought. Cool. Majestic Channel, though? Probably kids and animals, certain hurdles on a low budget.

As much as he regretted it, tight production schedules were Eddie's specialty. He'd built a reputation of getting the job done, always on time and under budget. Long ago he'd come to terms with the fact that he would never be recognized as an artist. He'd be known as a journeyman TV craftsman experienced in working with limited resources. "Laying pipe," was often how he described what he did as a director. It beat working in an office for a living.

Before getting on the freeway, Eddie popped into a 7-11 for Altoids and a bottle of water. He didn't want Sam to smell the Popov vodka on his breath.

*
Carver Entertainment was located in a Century City high-rise, and as expected, Eddie arrived sooner than he'd said. The young, sultry receptionist wearing a black leather miniskirt and zebra-print high heels escorted him to Carver's office. Eddie forced himself to not stare at her shapely legs, but damn, they were one hell of a distraction. Be professional.

Sam greeted Eddie with a handshake and, after the usual pleasantries, got down to business. "The picture starts right away, next week, so there's very little time," he said, taking a seat behind his vintage sixties desk. Eddie had never seen Sam wear anything other than tennis sweats and brand new white Nikes. Today was no exception. "We're already in prep," Sam continued before adjusting the lumbar support behind his back. "Chris Sanderson was attached to direct, but we've had creative differences."

Eddie suspected financial differences. He suspected Sanderson wouldn't go for Sam's super-lowball rate. "Well ... you've got a much better director in me," Eddie said with forced confidence. "Tell me about the script."

"Sentimental, but not entirely a weepy. It's pretty good, based on a self-published novel. Tami Romans brought it to us. Majestic Channel responded, so here we are."

Mike entered the office and handed Eddie a freshly bound script, the heat of the copy machine still warm on its pages, the chemical scent of toner still fresh. Mike said, "It's got a few good supporting roles, and it's well-structured for act breaks."

Eddie remembered from their last picture that Mike was quick to offer story notes and considered himself a writer even though he'd yet to earn a credit. A budding writer/producer; who knew if Mike could write?

"But," Sam said, "Tami's kind of pissed off it didn't work out with Sanderson."

"But not pissed off enough to walk away," Mike said with sarcasm.

Sam offered, "Tami hasn't worked in a while, and I'm betting she needs the job."

Eddie could relate, asked, "So she's definitely in?"

"This is a labor of love, so she's in, yeah, but that battle-ax is insisting on all her own hair-and-makeup team, plus some stylist. All these bitches are costing me a fortune." Sam tapped his clenched fist to the middle of his chest as if calming progressive heartburn. He grimaced and washed it down with his nearby can of Diet Coke.

"What's our schedule?" Eddie asked.

"As usual, fourteen days," said Sam.

Eddie nodded. He'd worked that schedule before but never on a period piece. He could already see this project was going to be a challenge.

Sam waved his Diet Coke and said, "Read the script, and if you're interested I'll set up a meeting. You may have to warm Tami up, boost her confidence, so to speak. She's got director approval."

With Tami having a final say, Eddie began to wonder how he would be able to close the deal. What if she didn't like him? Who would Sam move onto next?

"Is the network happy with just Tami?" Eddie asked. "Or are there more names involved?"

"We'll wedge in a few familiar character actors, but we don't have the budget for any more bankable names, per se. Network's fine with that. Tami has a few ideas. Maybe you do too. Talk to her about it."

"When does it start?"

"Saturday. I had Stuart Hardwicke make the schedule, you remember Stuart. He'll be your first."

Eddie did remember Stuart, Sam's go-to first assistant director. Although Eddie had engaged in heated arguments with Stuart when their last project fell behind schedule, by the end of the week they'd caught up and the TV movie came in under budget. Eddie figured Stuart was a solid choice, but he was a shouter and had an ego. Eddie hated how Stuart could be pompous and boisterous to the cast and crew. If it were Eddie's choice, he would have hired someone else, someone more chill and confident, but he knew Sam felt secure with an AD from his own camp. He also suspected he chose Stuart to keep him informed of everything in his absence. Eddie thought Sam could be the poster boy for attention deficit disorder. Executive Producer Sam didn't have the patience to be on set for more than a few hours a day, so Stuart would be his eyes and ears.

"Where are we shooting?" Eddie asked.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Bottom Feeders"
by .
Copyright © 2018 John Shepherd.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Bottom Feeders: A Novel 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't waste your time. Partly a cliff-hanger.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not worth the time, too much good literature to read this tripe.