A Hollywood ghostwriter and his basset hound explore the deadly world of high-stakes divorce in this hilarious mystery from an Edgar Award–winning author.
Matthew Wax is an overgrown kid with a taste for sweets, go-kart racing, and wholesome family comedy. He’s also the most successful director in Hollywood, a golden boy whose films are toothache sweet and spit-shine clean. But when his wife, leading lady Pennyroyal Brim, tires of life in a G-rated wonderland, she brings in the most ruthless lawyer on the West Coast: the notorious Abel Zorch. To win the divorce settlement, Zorch drags Wax through the mud, accusing him of perversion, misogyny, and abuse. So when Pennyroyal announces a tell-all memoir, Wax has only one choice: to call in Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag, ghostwriter to the stars.
Working with Wax, Hoagy and his basset hound, Lulu, get closer to the boy wonder than anyone else ever has. But when Zorch turns up dead, Wax is the prime suspect—followed closely by every spurned husband in Beverly Hills—and to clear their client’s name, the amateur sleuth and his canine companion will have to leave La-La Land behind and cross over to the dark side of Los Angeles.
From Edgar Award–winning author David Handler, The Boy Who Never Grew Up is a razor-sharp entry in the beloved Stewart Hoag Mysteries, called an “all-time favorite series” by Harlan Coben. The funniest sleuth around, Hoagy knows that quick wit can overcome any obstacle—even murder.
The Boy Who Never Grew Up is the 5th book in the Stewart Hoag Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Boy Who Never Grew Up
A Stewart Hoag Mystery
By David Handler
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1992 David Handler
All rights reserved.
Matthew Wax's very own little movie studio, Bedford Falls, kept its very own little suite of rooms all year around on the eighteenth floor of the Waldorf Towers, the major-bucks wing of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The Towers comes with its own special entrance around on Fiftieth Street off Park, its own doorman, its own desk, its own elevator, and its own style, or lack of it. Understated elegance is what they aim for. Stodgy is about as close as they get. Still, the security isn't terrible. Ronnie and Nancy used to stay there when they hit town from the White House. The Bushes still do. On this crisp autumn morning the place was a madhouse and there wasn't even a single politician in town. Unless you count the mayor, and not many people do. The street outside was mobbed with reporters and photographers and television news crews. There was local TV, national TV, tabloid TV. A Current Affair was there. Inside Edition was there. Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight, everybody was there. The police had set up blue barricades to contain all of them, but it was no use. They spilled out into the street, blocking traffic and exchanging graphic taunts with the cab drivers who were trying to get by. Limo drivers who were parked there gulped hot coffee from take-out cups and enjoyed the free show. And the divorce war between Matthew Wax, the most successful director in the history of Hollywood, and Pennyroyal Brim, his breathtakingly adorable leading lady, was indeed a show. The press hadn't pursued a bedtime story with such lunatic zeal since Donald and Ivana split. Every morning brought fresh hot scoops, each more lurid and venal than the last. Just this morning alone The National Enquirer had Pennyroyal claiming that Matthew had forced her to make love to her costar, Johnny Forget, in a bathtub while he sat there watching them do it. The Star, not to be outdone, was contending that Pennyroyal was secretly pregnant. The identity of her love child's father was being kept under wraps, they revealed, though Pennyroyal's current boyfriend, actor Trace Washburn, certainly had to be the lead candidate. I doubted that. My own money was on Elvis.
I stood there on the edge of the crowd for a moment, collecting myself, much like a diver up on the high board. The only difference is he dives into clear blue water, and I was diving into a sewer. I took a deep breath and plunged right in, elbows flying. It gets a little easier every time I do it.
At the door I was halted by a phalanx of gruff, beefy cops in uniform. I gave one of them my name and assured him I was expected. He looked me over top to bottom. I wore the glen plaid double-breasted cashmere suit I'd had made for me in London by Stricklands. There was a fresh white carnation in my lapel. The white cotton broadcloth shirt and burgundy-and-yellow silk bow tie were from Turnbull and Asser, the silver cuff links from Grandfather, the cordovan brogans from Maxwell's. My trench coat was over my arm. My borsalino, freshly blocked for the fall, was on my head. I did not look like any of the others. This he couldn't deny. Grudgingly, he gave my name to the doorman, who gave it to the desk. He called up. After a moment, they let me inside. I still had to wait in the lobby for a security guard to come down and get me. I did, watching the commotion outside.
It was no surprise that this one was so hot, given the principal players and their images and the millions of dollars involved. In one corner we had Matthew Wax, the gentle giant with his gee-whiz films and gee-whiz life-style. The man was straight out of Ozzie and Harriet. He didn't smoke or drink or take drugs. He liked his mom, milkshakes, and his privacy. Matthew Wax was only nineteen years old when he directed his first TV series. He had gone on from there to helm five of the ten top grossing films in Hollywood history, including Yeti, Yeti II and the highest grosser of them all, Dennis the Dinosaur. Estimates of his personal worth ran somewhere between $250 and $400 million, depending on who you talked to, and he wasn't forty yet. In the other corner we had Pennyroyal Brim, the goody-goody star of his last three movies, the perky, dimply little twenty-five-year-old blonde who was so squeaky clean she made Lady Di look dirty. And so impossibly cute the public had fallen for her just as Matthew Wax had. She was Pretty Penny, America's sweetie pie and People magazine's most popular cover girl. Her adorable dimples were even insured by Lloyds of London for two million dollars—one million per dimple. Two years ago, she and Matthew Wax had tied the knot. For each it was their first. Six months ago, she had given birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy they named George Bailey Wax. "Little Georgie," America's cutest little mother called him. It was all right out of a storybook or, more appropriately, a Matthew Wax movie. Until the marriage abruptly fell apart a few weeks ago. Penny had filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences, most notably Matthew's "personal and professional tyranny." She wanted sole custody of Little Georgie and—given that they lived in California, land of golden sunshine and community property—one half of Matthew Wax's entire fortune, including Bedford Falls, the independent movie studio he had purchased a few years before. Matthew's counteroffer: joint custody of Little Georgie, the deed to their Pacific Palisades mansion, an undisclosed cash settlement believed to be around ten million dollars, and no share of Bedford Falls. That's when it turned ugly.
She hired herself Abel Zorch, the meanest, most ballistic divorce attorney in Los Angeles, a flamboyantly gay bad-ass who loved the limelight so much he had his own full-time publicist. In an earlier life, Abel Zorch had been a handpicked Nixon thug, a high-ranking young official in the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Unlike so many of the others, he'd been smart enough to leave no fingerprints behind when Watergate hit the fan. In fact, a number of well-informed people believed it was he who was Deep Throat. He quickly relocated in Hollywood. It proved to be a natural fit. A gifted go-between, deal maker, dispenser of favors, and trader of inside information, Zorch was now one of the most powerful men in the movie business, and certainly one of its most ruthless. Out there he was known as the Iguana—because of his personality and because he happened to look like one. No one liked to go up against him. To do so was to get Zorched. And that's what was happening right now to Matthew Wax. Pretty Penny's lawyer was destroying him. Day after day, nasty little items about Matthew's carefully guarded private life were finding their way into the tabloids. Items about how he kept Penny a virtual prisoner in her own home. About how he was a Howard Hughes-like recluse who spent hundreds of hours at a stretch in a darkened room eating Fig Newtons and watching tapes of old movies and TV shows. About how he hated to bathe and refused to cut his toenails. And how he suffered from chronic premature ejaculation. And was hung up on his mother. And insisted on sleeping in twin beds because Beaver Cleaver's parents had. On and on it went. And it would keep on going until Matthew backed down. But he wouldn't. Instead, he had sued Pretty Penny for defamation of character. And withdrawn his settlement offer. He now wanted sole custody of Georgie, claiming Penny was an unfit mother. His basis for this: the very public affair she was carrying on with Trace Washburn, the fiftyish, ruggedly handsome leading man who had starred in a number of Matthew's biggest hits and whose reputation as a filmland hound rivaled that of Warren Beatty. "Best sex I've ever had," America's sweetie pie had boasted to the world on page one of the New York Post. "It's great to be with a real man for a change."
The press was calling it the House of Wax.
The public couldn't get enough of it.
For me, it was just another day at the office.
The security guard was big and blond and bulked up. He carried an old copy of the first novel, Our Family Enterprise, the one that prompted the Times to label me "the first major new literary voice of the eighties." The one that won me every award in existence, including Merilee Nash. I still have the awards someplace. Merilee is another story. My picture is on the back of the dust jacket. I'm standing on the roof of my brownstone looking awful goddamned sure of myself, and about nineteen.
He peered at it, then at me. "You're Stewart Hoag?"
"I don't know," he said unsurely. "You look awful different here."
"You would, too."
"I guess this was taken a long time ago, huh?"
"Why don't you take out your gun and finish the job?"
"No need to be touchy, mister. Just being careful. This way, please." He started for the elevator, then stopped. He had noticed Lulu, my basset hound, for the first time. She was traveling incognito that season in the wraparound shades she'd taken to wearing when she picked up a dose of pinkeye while summering at Merilee's farm. Her eyes were perfectly fine now. She'd kept on wearing the shades because she thought they made her look sexy. I thought they made her look like George Shearing.
"Is she with you?" the guard wanted to know.
"She is," I replied. "But we still haven't made any serious commitment to each other. If you want to take a crack at her, I won't stand in your way."
He started to say something. Nothing came out except for an exasperated grunt. I get a lot of those. The three of us got into the elevator and he punched eighteen. Then the doors closed and up we went.
To be honest, this wasn't where I really wanted to be right now. Fiji was my first choice. Merilee was shooting a movie there with Michelle Pfeiffer. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. I had stayed behind to work on novel number three. It's a dirty job, but nobody's got to do it. She also hadn't invited me to come along with her. The two of them were playing turn-of-the-century Catholic nuns who fall in love with each other. Merilee didn't think she could stay in character if I were there. Or so she'd said. The fact is we hadn't been getting along too well lately. She'd been snappish, moody, distant. Something was troubling her. What, I didn't know. She had left six weeks ago. For good, according to Liz Smith, who reported the very next day in Newsday that we were no longer an item. Merilee and me, that is. I'd been dumped, said Liz. I didn't know where she'd heard that. I didn't know if it was true. Merilee wouldn't answer any of my letters. I hadn't heard one word from her since she left. Not even a postcard. I had kept good and busy though. So far I had generated a whopping seventy-five pages of tumid, overheated gibberish. Presently I was lost in a jungle of my own delusions with no compass and only a dull pocket knife to hack my way out with. That takes time, and time takes money. That's why I was here to see Matthew Wax's brother-in-law, Sheldon Selden, the president of Bedford Falls. My agent said he answered to Shelley. She didn't say if he could also roll over and play dead, but she did say he was housebroken—a rarity among studio executives. She thought he sounded nice. They always do, when they want something from you.
When we got to the eighteenth floor my escort got out first and looked both ways down the long, carpeted corridor. Then we proceeded. There was another guard just like him parked outside the suite.
"Expecting a Libyan hit squad?" I asked.
"The Seldens always travel with security," the one on the door replied.
"Do they need it?"
He rapped twice on the door and told me to go in. I went in. They stayed outside.
The living room was large and charmless. There was a fireplace, a terrace, and a lot of toys scattered about. Also two midget human life forms, one female, one male. The girl was about five, tanned and dark-haired. She wore a Bedford Falls sweatshirt, jeans, and hot pink nail polish, chipped. The boy wore a Dodgers warm-up suit. He was younger, maybe three, chubby and fair-haired. He squealed with delight at the sight of Lulu. Both of them made right for her. Lulu let out a low, unhappy moan. Something she picked up from me. Not that I mean to sound churlish. I don't mind kids. I like them just fine—as long as they're properly stuffed.
Mommy stopped them short. "Sarah? Benjamin? Don't you go running up to her! She may not like it!" She turned to me and asked, "Is she friendly?"
"Many people actually consider her the personality of the outfit," I replied.
Sarah went nose to nose with her. Benjamin tried to climb up on her back. Lulu suffered this in silence. At least neither of them was yanking on her ears. She hates that.
"I'm Shelley Selden, Mr. Hoag," Mommy said, offering me her hand.
"My mistake," I said, taking it. "I was told you were a man."
"Oh, Shelley is," she exclaimed. "Sheldon Selden is my husband. He's Shelley, I'm Shelley. They call us the Two Shelleys. Just one of those things." She chuckled merrily. "Matthew Wax is my little brother."
Big Sis was in her early forties, and she didn't look very much like baby brother. She was a tiny woman, not more than five feet tall, plump and pretty, with lustrous dark eyes, a wide, full mouth, and olive skin. Her hair was a frizzy shock of black streaked with silver. She wore a white cashmere turtleneck with a well-tailored pair of gray flannel slacks and Bally slip-ons. She was a warm, comfortable woman. Matronly, almost. "I'm afraid Shelley's on the phone," she said. "He's always on it. Most little boys like to imitate their daddy shaving. Benjamin imitates his daddy yelling into a cordless phone. Show him, sweetie. Show him how you do Daddy."
Benjamin held a chubby little fist up to his ear and screamed, "Deal's dead! Deal's dead! Deal's dead!"
"Isn't he cute?" Shelley asked, beaming proudly.
"As a bug's ear."
Lulu had had enough of him and his sister both. I know this because she unveiled her secret weapon—she yawned in Sarah's face.
"Ugh," cried Sarah, recoiling in disgust. "Her breath ..."
"She has rather strange eating habits," I explained.
"Mommy, let's go," commanded Sarah. "I wanna go."
"In a minute, button," Shelley said. To me she said, "We're going shopping."
"Mommy, come on !" Sarah insisted, stamping her foot.
"In a minute!"
Benjamin, meanwhile, waddled over to a miniature rubber football and picked it up and brought it to me. It was wet and rather sticky. I didn't know from what, and I didn't want to know. He stood there, clapping his hands together eagerly. I tossed it to him, underhanded, from about three feet away. It bounded softly off his chest and was halfway to the floor before he finally clapped his hands together to catch it.
"Chip off the old block," proclaimed Sheldon Selden, gazing at his son proudly from the bedroom doorway. "Poor kid even got my lightning quick reflexes. Hey, real glad you could make it, guy," he said genially, limping over to me on a heavily wrapped ankle.
"Get bit by an agent?" I asked.
"Naw. Tripped rounding first in our studio softball game."
"Shelley isn't exactly Mr. Coordination," Mrs. Shelley explained. "I call him Twinkle. Short for Twinkletoes."
"We had to move into a one-story house because I kept falling down the damned stairs," he confessed jovially.
Mr. Shelley was a chubby, sheepish, panda bear of a guy with thinning strawberry blond hair and pink skin. He was sort of soft and round all over, like one of those rubber toys that squeak if you squeeze them. His eyes were set unusually close together, so close they almost seemed to be on the same side of his nose, like a cartoon character's. He wore a chunky, geometrically patterned sweater and wide-wale corduroy slacks. He seemed, at first glance, like a bit of a cream puff to be someone who ran a studio. Oafish almost. I doubted this was the case. Oafs do run studios, but they are never cream puffs.
"What do your friends call you?" he asked, as he shook my hand.
"Any number of vile things. Make it Hoagy."
"As in Carmichael?"
"As in the cheese steak."
"I'm a major fan of your work, Hoagy. Merilee's, too. How's she liking Fiji?"
Mrs. Shelley elbowed him sharply in the ribs and glared at him.
"Oops," he said, reddening. "Sorry. I forgot that you two—"
"No need to be sorry," I assured him. "Merilee's fine, I'm fine, we're both fine." This was me putting on my happy face. It's not one of the things I'm best at.
"Glad to hear it," he said, and he seemed to be. "Oh, hey, sorry about all that security downstairs. We need it when we travel."
Excerpted from The Boy Who Never Grew Up by David Handler. Copyright © 1992 David Handler. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book draws the reader in on the first page, and holds on to the end.
I really enjoy and love this series, it is so much fun to read. I discovered David Handler by winning his latest book of the Stewart Hoag series at Goodreads, and then had to get all the other books that came before. You really don't need to read them in order to enjoy them which is always nice. It had plenty of mystery and drama, dry sense of humor and even a touch of romance and most importantly a good storyline and great characters, I might just be a bit partial to Lulu. Can't wait to see what will happen next, great fun and very entertaining.
Living in Los Angeles and having the care of the people in the movie industry, found the characters true to life. The mystery itself is well rounded and the finish left me surprised.