A classic bad seed and his good-guy brother fall in love with the same woman. Wild man Brian demolishes a movie set as revenge against the studio he feels is defaming him. As Brian rampages from Colorado to Seattle with girlfriend, Eve, in tow, his brother, Charley, follows, unnerved by Brian’s increasingly violent behavior.
Eve, Brian, and Charley are on a crusade ride through mayhem and madness, where one seeks justice, another seeks redemption, and all three seek something in the ruins—each other. Eve’s Men is a fascinating trip with a volatile man and those who love him.
“A commanding writer of unusual delicacy and power.” —The New Yorker
“A born storyteller.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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About the Author
His 1976 novel Cutter and Bone was filmed in 1981 as Cutter's Way. The New York Times called Cutter and Bone "the best novel of its kind for ten years." Another novel-to film Beautiful Kate was filmed in Australia in 2009 and starred Bryan Brown and Ben Mendelsohn. It was directed by Rachel Ward, who is Bryan Brown's real-life wife. Thornburg died on May 9, 2011, a few days shy of his eighty-second birthday.
Read an Excerpt
They were not your average couple rattling along a Colorado blacktop in a dirty pickup at three in the morning. For one thing, they were not high on liquor or drugs. Nor were they in any way average-looking, in fact could easily have passed for a pair of New York models a decade past their prime earning years, the woman appearing to be around thirty, the man forty. Also, despite the late hour, they didn't seem to be tired or sleepy but intensely alert, the man maintaining an expression of unbending determination in the face of the woman's obvious disapproval as he guided the four-wheel-drive Chevy through the genteel horse country north of Colorado Springs. Every so often she would look over at him, glances that could scald, given their source, the beautiful green eyes with their sculpted lids and long lashes, their look of cool intelligence. The woman's hair was dark brown, thick, and unkempt. Her teeth were very white and even. Her mouth, barely rouged, was full and strong.
"You're really going through with it, then," she said.
The man did not look at her. "Why else would we be out here at this hour?"
"We could pull over and neck."
She sighed in regret. "It just seems so stupid, Brian. So wasteful. You'll go to prison and they'll make the goddamn movie anyway."
"Yeah, it's a bitch."
At that, she settled back, looking out the passenger window at the small ranchettes sliding steadily past, an occasional horse clearly visible in the moonlight. Out the other window, past Brian's curly head and the pines along the road, she could see the ghostly white peaks of the front range running across the horizon, like a rip in the sky. But it was her lover's face she settled on, the carefully fashioned mask of sardonic amiability that never quite worked for her, never quite hid the pain underneath. Even now, as grimly determined as he was, she found it impossible to see the mask, its surface handsomeness as usual undone by the character of the man. Improvident and reckless and hopelessly honest, Brian Poole had the scars to show for it, including one running from his ear halfway down his flat cheek, a memento of six months spent in a Mexican jail fifteen years before. Nasty as the scar was, she knew it was as nothing compared to the one that had brought them here on this night, so far from home, if L.A. could be called a home.
The truck suddenly slowed.
"It's just up ahead," Brian said.
The woman sighed. "It's not too late, you know. We can still turn around and go home."
He looked at her. "And just live with it, right? Just accept it? Buy into their fucking lies?"
"They're not going to use your name, you know."
"No — just my life."
There was no sense arguing. And anyway, she could see it up ahead now, the night lights burning in the darkness, barely illuminating the newly erected outdoor set: a street and storefronts, with the exterior of a modern log cabin hideaway set off to the side. Running straight back from the blacktop was a row of equipment trucks and trailers and a couple of prefabs, one with lights on inside.
"What if it's not here?" she said.
"The bulldozer? It was this afternoon. But if it's gone, then there'll be a fire."
She smiled ruefully. "My hero."
"Not now, okay?"
He swung into the driveway and stopped in front of a heavy gate chain with a No Trespassing signboard attached. Close to the road, on the near side of the open street area, a huge yellow bulldozer was parked.
"Good, it's still here." Brian slid the gearshift into park, then turned and looked gravely at the woman. "Remember, Eve, you just back out and leave. You don't wait for me. I don't want you being an accessory."
And I don't want you being a criminal, she thought, but didn't say it. Not this time, not this late in the day. Instead she slipped her arms around him and kissed him. He gave her a quick hug and got out of the truck.
"Remember," he said, "you don't stay."
But she did. She got into the driver's seat and started to back into the road, then stopped and killed the truck's lights and sat there watching as Brian stepped over the chain and headed across the rutted, open area toward the lighted prefab. He called out something, and a middle-aged uniformed security guard appeared in the doorway of the prefab. Brian had told her that he was going to plead car trouble, ask to use a phone inside the small security building. And that was what he appeared to be doing now, talking, smiling, putting the man at ease. Then, as they went up the short stairway toward the doorway, he suddenly grasped the man's right arm and pushed it up behind his back, at the same time clamping him around the neck and forcing him on inside.
Eve's eyes filled with tears. In frustration she began to pound her fist against the truck's plastic dashboard and was still pounding when Brian appeared again, taking the three stairs in one stride and running across the open area toward the bulldozer, carrying a ring of keys in his hand. He had explained to her that in his wanderings after Vietnam he once had worked as a ranch hand in West Texas, clearing chaparral with a Cat dozer. So she was not surprised as he clambered up into the protective cage atop the huge machine and within seconds had its diesel engine clattering loudly, spouting black exhaust. Next, he raised the Cat's blade, then turned the dozer on a dime and started across the rutted open space — a space undoubtedly cleared by that same machine — toward the row of storefronts.
Eve couldn't help reflecting on how stupid it all was: Brian about to bulldoze a row of facades, shell buildings, when the real ones — the real town, the real cabin — existed only a few miles away. But the real thing evidently just hadn't looked real enough for Hollywood. So now Brian would destroy not the hick bar he once had been thrown out of, nor the bank and grocery where the lady, the burned-out star, was refused service, nor the cabin where they had lived on coke and she had died of it, of overdose. No, Brian would destroy the images of these places — though not without reason, she knew. Because it was here on this set and in Hollywood that their two lives — his and the late Kim Sanders' — would be permanently altered, probably defamed, certainly diminished, in order to fit the enduring "reality" of film.
That was what Brian wanted to destroy. And he set about it now. Clanking across the camera track, he came to the corner of the set, an old-fashioned gray stone bank, a dual facade, front and side, with a hick-town covered walk in front. Next to the bank was the grocery, then the bar, followed by a couple of other shops, unimportant to the movie. After raising the blade a few feet higher, Brian shoved the bulldozer into gear again and the huge machine cut effortlessly through the walkway roof supports and into the bank itself, buckling its fake stone corner and shattering the front window, which had been lettered in gold leaf: the First National Bank of Black Pine.
With the bulldozer half on the walkway and half inside the "buildings," Brian continued down the street as walls and roofs, bars and counters, groceries and liquor bottles, cascaded all around him, even covering him in his cage for a short time, like a burrowing mole. Then he clanked into the open again, with the street a shambles behind him. Halfway to the log cabin, he stopped and looked back toward the gate. Seeing that Eve was still parked there, watching him, he gestured angrily for her to leave. And finally she did so, backing the pickup all the way into the road and starting forward, moving slowly, watching to see if he had begun on the log cabin yet. But he had not. And she suspected that he was waiting not only because he wanted her away from there, safe and free, but also because he wanted to be alone when he demolished this last shell, this Hollywood version of the place where he and Miss Colorado had briefly lived and loved. And used. And died.
When the phone rang, Charley Poole was lying awake in his king-size bed in the comfortable bedroom of his comfortable home in the comfortable Chicago suburb of Flossmoor. Earlier, at six, he had awakened briefly at the alarm, feeling Donna slip out of bed and head for the bathroom. Before he fell back to sleep she was already bounding along the treadmill in the alcove, keeping body and spirit hard for the labors ahead of her, always considerable on Sunday in the real estate business. And now she was back upstairs again in the master suite, as she called it, having already showered and dressed and breakfasted on coffee and cantaloupe. As he listened to her in the bathroom, putting the finishing touches on her face and hair, he reflected that he was probably in deeper trouble than he had thought, not even able to look forward with any enthusiasm to a round of golf at the club with Harry Duncan and Joe and Jack McAllister, three of his oldest friends.
First, it had been the family business, the real estate brokerage his grandfather and father had passed on to him and whose operation he gradually had turned over to Donna, for the excellent reason that she loved it and he did not. Then there was the hobby he had turned into a thriving enterprise of his own, buying certain problem homes cheap and creatively remodeling them for resale, usually quite profitably. But even that had begun to pall this past year. And now the last straw, not even wanting to get out of bed to play golf with best friends.
Looking at the matter objectively, he couldn't help wondering if he wasn't getting a bit too fussy for his own good. It seemed that if life didn't shape up pretty soon and get a helluva lot more exciting, old Charley Poole just might have to show it a thing or two. Why, he might even have to pull the covers up higher and burrow into the pillow a little deeper. For a real go- getter, there was always a way.
It was as he was thinking this, trying hard to kid himself out of the funk he was in, that the phone began to ring. In the bathroom, Donna gave her first order of the day.
"Charley, would you get that, please."
He did so clumsily, almost pulling the cradle off the nightstand before he was able to growl hello. The voice he heard, however, brought him sharply awake. It was a woman's voice, husky and smooth, a performer's voice.
"I'm calling for Charles Poole," she said.
"This is Charley Poole."
"My name is Eve Sherman. I'm a friend of your brother's. I hate to bother you so early, but I'm afraid he's gone off the deep end. He's in jail here in Colorado Springs."
"Colorado, uh?" Charley didn't know what to say. His brother had been in jail before.
"Yes. You see, Hollywood's making this movie, Miss Colorado, about Kim Sanders' life. As you may know, Brian was living with her when she died — when she overdosed — in her country place north of here. Anyway, Brian doesn't want the movie made. So last night he bulldozed the outdoor set where they were going to shoot the exteriors, starting tomorrow."
"That was smart."
"I know. I feel the same way. But the point is, whatever they set his bail at — we don't have it. His Venice condo is mortgaged to the hilt."
"That's hard to believe."
The woman ignored that. "But just as important as the bail, Charley, I think he could use your influence right now. I really do. You're the one person he looks up to."
Charley smiled slightly. "Is that a fact."
"No, I mean it," she said. "Maybe not the businessman-family man part, but what you are. Your character. Brian always said that you got all the brains and character while all he got was the curly hair."
"Among other things."
"Well, that's what he says, anyway."
"Just so I get this straight, you are — what?" Charley asked. "An old friend? A new friend? His fiancÃ©e — what?"
"I've been living with him for three years now. Why? Is that important?"
"I suppose not. Just curious. And another thing I'm curious about — why didn't he call me? Why you?"
"The bail money. He just couldn't ask you himself."
"I don't see why not. But let's move on. What's he charged with? What's the specific charge?"
"Felony destruction of private property and first-degree assault."
"Yes. He handcuffed a security guard while he did the bulldozing. Then he let him go and stayed there while the man called the police."
"Well, that's a plus anyway. And just how much damage would you say he did, dollarwise?"
"I'm not sure. The set probably cost three or four hundred thousand to build. But the big item will be lost production time, keeping the crews here while they rebuild the set or sending them all home and bringing them back later. That kind of thing."
"Which means bail will be substantial."
"I suppose so. But Brian wanted me to make it clear that he isn't asking you for a gift or loan — he just wants to sell his interest in your company. That's the only way he'd let me call you."
Charley didn't know what to say to that. When his parents died in a car crash nine years before, he and Brian had each inherited half of the estate. And Brian had promptly sold out to Charley for four hundred thousand dollars, payable over ten years at 8 percent interest. Which meant there was only forty thousand and change left to pay on the contract. So Charley couldn't help wondering where the rest had gone. As far as he knew, Brian had worked fairly steadily in Hollywood, in recent years as a production assistant of some kind, before that as a stuntman or stand-in, not to mention his stint as "personal manager" to a superstar.
"That sounds like him," Charley said, not without irony.
Which Eve Sherman missed. "He's a proud man. And with good reason, I think."
It had been three years since Charley had seen his brother, and while he was not inclined to accept the woman's assessment of him, neither could he accept the idea of Brian behind bars. Even now, after all their years apart, he felt yoked to him in a way he was to no one else, not even his wife. The bonds of childhood were simply like no others.
Then too there was the matter of the funk Charley was in, his own little midlife crisis or whatever the hell it was. Flying out to Colorado would mean getting out of the round of golf and the vodka tonics afterwards, followed by a spate of yardwork at home and maybe a nap, then Willis Tate's retirement party at the club, all the pleasant little tortures of the good life.
"All right, I'll fly out as soon as I can," he said now, picking up a pad and pencil. "Tell me where you're staying."
By then, Donna had come back into the bedroom, looking every inch the take-no-prisoners lady executive, from her carefully mussed blond coiffure down to her Ferragamo shoes. Though he knew she was in a hurry to leave, she stood waiting by the bed until he had hung up.
"Colorado?" she said. "What's all this? You're going to Colorado?"
"Brian," he explained. "He's in jail for bulldozing a movie set. That was his current lady friend. She says he needs bail money, not to mention my sterling presence."
"Well, you're not going, are you? My God, Charley, we send him almost fifty thousand a year."
"I'll just make the final payment, that's all."
"But it's not due for six months yet."
"So I'll deduct six months' interest. It's no big deal." Getting out of bed, Charley put his hands on his wife's padded shoulders. "The kid's in jail," he said. "I can't know that and just go on out and play golf, as if everything was okay."
"He's not a kid. He's forty-one years old, for Christ's sake."
"And in jail."
"You could send the money from here."
"Yeah, but I'm not going to. I'm flying out there today."
"And what about Willis Tate's party tonight? I want that listing, Charley, and he's your buddy a lot more than mine — old Flossmoor family and all that bullshit."
"My dad's buddy, Donna. Not mine."
"That dump of theirs will go for a good seven hundred."
"Probably. But don't worry — you'll get the listing, as you always do. If you can't charm the old bastard, browbeat him. It usually works, doesn't it?"
He had gone too far. She was looking at him with pure hatred. "Go to hell," she said.
He smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, Donna. That was just jealousy talking. I've always envied you, what a closer you are."
"Sure, you have." She was not an easy sell. "All right, then — you go on to Colorado and help your little brother. He's been a screwup all his life, but don't let that discourage you."
"Meanwhile, I'll try to hold down the fort."
Ignoring the sarcasm, Charley kissed her lightly on the cheek, knowing her makeup would still be slightly sticky. She did not return the kiss. At the doorway, she looked back at him. "You'll call tonight?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Eve's Men"
Copyright © 1998 Newton Thornburg.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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