The first of three explosive pulp thrillers arriving back-to-back from cult crime fiction sensation and Marvel Comics scribe Duane Swierczynski.
Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop still reeling from the revenge killing of his former partner's entire family, fears one thing above all else: that he'll suffer the same fate.
Languishing in self-imposed exile, Hardie has become a glorified house sitter. His latest gig comes replete with an illegally squatting B-movie actress who rants about hit men who specialize in making deaths look like accidents. Unfortunately, it's the real deal. Hardie finds himself squared off against a small army of the most lethal men in the world: The Accident People.
It's nothing personal-the girl just happens to be the next name on their list. For Hardie, though, it's intensely personal. He's not about to let more innocent people die. Not on his watch.
About the Author
Duane Swierczynski is the author of several crime thrillers and also writes the X-Men spinoff CABLE for Marvel Comics and IMMORTAL IRON FIST. His latest novels include EXPIRATION DATE; LEVEL 26, cowritten with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuicker; and SEVERANCE PACKAGE, which has been optioned by Lionsgate films. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and children.
Read an Excerpt
Fun and Games
By Swierczynski, Duane
Mulholland BooksCopyright © 2011 Swierczynski, Duane
All right reserved.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
SHE DISCOVERED Decker Canyon Road by accident, not long after she moved to L.A. A random turn off the PCH near Malibu shot her up the side of the mountain, followed by twelve miles of stomach-flipping twists and hairpin turns all the way to Westlake Village. And she loved it, hands gripping the wheel of the sports car she’d bought with her first real movie check—because that’s what you were supposed to do, right? Blow some of that money on an overpriced, overmuscled convertible coupe that popped a spoiler when you topped 75. She never cared she was going thirty miles faster than any sane driver would attempt on this road. She loved the ocean air smashing into her face, the feel of the tires beneath as they struggled to cling to the asphalt, the hum of the machine surrounding her body, the knowledge that one twitch to the left or right at the wrong moment meant her brand-new car, along with her brand-new life, would end up at the bottom of a ravine, and maybe years later people would ask: Whatever happened to that cute actress who was in those funny romantic comedies a few years ago? Back then, she loved to drive Decker Canyon Road because it blasted all of the clutter out of her mind. Life was reduced to a simple exhilarating yes or no, zero or one, live or die.
But now she was speeding up Decker Canyon Road because she didn’t want to die.
And the headlights were gaining on her.
The prick had been toying with her ever since she made the turn onto Route 23 from the PCH.
He’d gun the engine and then flash his high beams and fly right up her ass. She’d be forced to take it above 60, praying to God she’d have enough room to spin through the next finger turn. Then without warning he’d back off, almost disappearing… but not quite.
The road had no shoulder.
It was like he knew it and was trying to spook her into a bad turn.
Her cell was in the dash console, but it was all but useless. The few seconds it took to dial 911 could be a potentially fatal distraction. And what was she going to tell the operator? Send someone up to Route 23, seventeenth hairpin turn from the middle? Even the highway patrol didn’t patrol up here, preferring to hand out speeding tickets on Kanan Road or Malibu Canyon Road.
No, better to keep her eyes on the road and her hands upon the wheel, just like Jim Morrison once advised.
Then again, Jim had ended up dead in a bathtub.
The headlights stayed with her. Every few seconds she thought she’d lost them, or they’d given up, or—God, please please please—driven over a bump of asphalt where a guardrail should be and tumbled down into the ravine. But the instant she thought they might be gone… they returned. Whoever was behind the wheel didn’t seem to give a shit that they were on Decker Canyon Road, that one slip of the wheel was like asking God for the check, please.
She was almost two miles along the road now; ten to go.
Her Boxster was long gone; traded in after the accident in Studio City three years ago. Now she drove a car that suited her age—a leased Lexus. A car for grown-ups. And it was a fine machine. But now, as she took those insanely tight turns in the near dark, she wished she had the Boxster again.
Decker Canyon Road was notorious for two things: the rustedout chassis of cars that dotted the hills, and its uncanny ability to induce car sickness, even with safe, slow drivers just trying to make their way up to Westlake Village in one piece.
She felt sick to her stomach now, but she didn’t know if it was the road doing it to her, or the events of the past few days. The past few hours, especially. She hadn’t eaten much, hadn’t slept much. Her stomach felt like it had been scraped from the inside.
She’d been up for a job that seemed like a sure thing: producers, director, writer, star all in place, a guaranteed fast-track green light. It was a supporting role but in a higher-profile movie than she’d done in years. A role that would make people notice her again—Wow, she’s in that? I was wondering where she’d been. And then it all had fallen apart in less than an hour.
She’d spent the majority of the past week in her Venice apartment, brooding, not able to bring herself to take much interest in feeding or watering herself or even turning on the satellite cable—God forbid one of her pieces of shit appear, or worse, a piece of shit she’d been passed over for.
So tonight she’d gone for a long late-night drive—the best kind in L.A. Enough wallowing. She wanted the ocean air to blast away the malaise. Blasting away the better part of the past three years would be nice, too…
And then the headlights were back. Rocketing toward her, practically up her ass.
Number of accidental vehicle crash deaths in the United States per year: 43,200.
She stomped on the accelerator and spun the wheel, tires screaming as she made—barely—the next finger turn.
The bastard stayed right behind her.
The worst part was not being able to see much beyond the span of her headlights and having to make lightning-fast decisions, one after the other. There was no room to pull over, to let him pass. If passing was even on his mind.
She wondered why she presumed it was a him.
And then she remembered why. Of course.
At some point she knew Decker Canyon Road crossed Mulholland, and there was even a stop sign. She’d happily pull over then and give him the double-barrel salute as he drove by.
How much farther was it? She couldn’t remember. It had been years since she’d been on this road.
The road continued to snake and twist and turn and climb, the tires of her Lexus gripping asphalt as best they could, the headlights bobbing and weaving behind her, like she was being pursued by a forty-foot electric wasp.
Finally the road leveled out—a feature she remembered now. From here, the road would ease up for a quarter mile as it ran through a valley, followed by another series of insane uphill curves leading to the next valley. A few seconds after, everything seemed to level out—
—then she gunned it—
60, 70, 80
—the electric wasp eyes falling behind her—
Ha, ha, fuck you!
The Lexus made it to the next set of curves within seconds, it seemed, and all she had to do now was slide and skid her way along them and put even more distance behind her. She applied some brake, but not too much—she didn’t want to lose momentum.
Halfway through the curves, though, the electric eyes returned.
Right on her, curve for curve, skid for skid. It was like the car behind her was mocking her. Anything you can do, I can do better.
When she finally saw the red glow of the Mulholland stop sign out in the distance, she decided to fuck it. Hit the turn signal. Slowed down. Used the bit of skirting that now appeared on the side of the road. Go ahead, pass me. I’m stopping. I’m stopping and probably screaming for a while, but I’m done with this. Maybe I’ll take a look at your license plate. Maybe I’ll call the highway patrol after all, you reckless asshole.
She pulled the Lexus to a skidding stop, her first since the PCH, which felt like years ago. Then she turned left and pulled off to the side.
The car followed her, pulled up next to her.
She reached for her cell and power-locked the doors at the same time. The other car appeared to be a goddamned Chevy Malibu, of all things. Some kind of bright color—it was hard to see in the dark. The driver popped out, looked over the roof, made a roll-your-window-down gesture.
Phone in her hand, she paused for a moment, then relented. Pressed the power window lock. The glass slid down two inches.
“Hey, are you okay?” the guy asked. She couldn’t see his face, but his voice sounded young. “Something wrong with your car?”
“I’m fine,” she said quietly.
Now he moved around the front of his car, inching his way toward her.
“Just seemed like you were having trouble there. Want me to call somebody?”
“On the phone with the cops right now,” she lied. She had her finger on the 9 but had stopped. Go on, press it, she told herself. Followed by two ones. You can do it. That way, when this guy pulls out a shotgun and blasts you to death, your last moments will be digitally recorded.
“What the hell were you doing, racing up my ass that whole time?”
“Racing up what? What are you talking about? I didn’t see anybody on the road until just now, when you slowed down. I almost slammed into you!”
The guy sounded sincere enough. Then again, L.A. was crawling with men who were paid to sound sincere.
“Well, we’ll let the police sort it out.”
“Oh, okay,” the guy said, stopping in his tracks. “I’ll wait in my car until they show up, if you don’t mind. It’s a little creepy, being out here in the middle of nowhere.”
She couldn’t help herself—she flashed him a withering Duh, you think? look.
But that was a mistake, because now he was looking at her—really looking at her. Recognition washed over his face. His eyes lit up, the corners of his mouth lifting into a knowing smile.
“You’re Lane Madden. No way!”
Great. Now she couldn’t be just an anonymous pissed-off woman on Decker Canyon Road. Now she had to be on.
“Look, I’m fine, really,” she said. “Go on ahead. I guess I was imagining things.”
“Uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but should you even be driving?”
Lane’s brain screamed: asshole.
“You know, I don’t mind waiting, if you want to call this in, or check in, or whatever you have to do.”
“Really, I’m okay.”
The guy seemed to know he’d pushed the ribbing a little too far. He smiled shyly.
“You know, I promised myself when I moved here, I wouldn’t be one of those assholes asking for autographs everywhere he goes. And I’m not. Just wanted to tell you how much I’m a fan of your movies.”
“And you’re even prettier in person.”
“I really appreciate that.”
After a few awkward moments the guy got the hint, walked back to the driver’s side of his Malibu, and gave her a sheepish wave before ducking back inside his own car and pulling away into the dark night.
Lane sped through Westlake Village, caught the 101. It was an hour or so before dawn. The freeway was as calm as it ever gets. She took a series of deep, mind-clearing breaths. Maybe when she had enough oxygen in her brain she’d be able to laugh about all of this. Because it was sort of funny, now that it was over.
The Malibu guy hadn’t been riding her ass; he’d simply been out cruising down Decker Canyon Road for the same reason Lane used to cruise it—the sheer thrill. It only seemed like he was trailing her. Hell, he was probably following her lead. Lane Madden had clearly seen too many action movies. God knows she’d been in too many of them.
They caught her in the Cahuenga Pass near Barham—a two-car team. Malibu had done this dozens of times before. His job title: professional victim. You find your target in the rearview, then start to make a series of subtle calculations that only truly exceptional wheel men can make. A small turn of the wheel, a tap on the brakes, then presto, Hollywood fender bender. Happens all the time.
That was the fun part. The boring part was the aftermath. Bleeding. Waiting in your own car for the highway patrol to arrive. Then more waiting for the EMTs to take you to the nearest hospital. Malibu was stone sober, of course, and his driving record was spotless, since it was erased every time he did one of these jobs. His volunteer work with kids with leukemia (fake) would pop up, as well as his Habitat for Humanity projects (also fake). No one would give him a second glance. Maybe they’d mention his name—an alias, and he had plenty of them—in a newspaper story or two. But mostly they would focus on the actress.
Malibu wanted to take her out on Decker Canyon Road, but it turned out she knew these roads just as well as he did. Sure, he could pull some fancy surefire moves that would nudge her sweet little ass off into the canyon. But that was beyond what had been discussed, so he’d called Mann on the hands-free. The word came back quick: no. This had to look as mundane as possible. Something that would make headlines briefly, but nothing that would be followed up.
No, better if she looked like another coked-up actress who was out too late and didn’t know how to handle her Lexus.
So he trailed her to the 101. Now it was show time.
Malibu liked working with members of the acting community. They were fun. You knew exactly what they were going to do, exactly how they were going to react. Like they were following a script. They had the idea that they were above it all—
“I really appreciate that.”
—that made it all the more gratifying.
Lane was approaching the exit to Highland Avenue—the Hollywood Bowl. It was still painfully early. The sky over L.A. was a pale gray lid. Maybe from here she’d go down to Hollywood Boulevard, then take Sunset all the way back down to the PCH, and then Venice. Make herself a big strong cup of coffee—one of those Cuban espressos she used to drink all the time. Put on some Neko Case, wait for her manager to wake up. Plan her next moves. When life finally stops kicking you in the teeth, you don’t whine and count the gaps. You see the fucking dentist and move on.
She signaled to change lanes, and saw the Chevy Malibu in front of her again. Damnit, the same one from Decker Canyon Road. As the moment of realization hit her—he’s braking he’s braking he’s braking—the vehicle came to a violent rubber-burning halt.
Lane’s body was hurled forward just as the hood was ripped from its moorings and went flying up into the windshield. Glass sprayed. The air bag exploded.
Mann watched the accident from approximately fifty yards away. Now it was time to pull over to the shoulder and be one of those friendly citizens who offers to hold your hand until the police arrive. Only this friendly citizen would be uncapping a syringe containing a speedball and jamming the needle into the victim’s arm. There would be no hello, no speech, no nothing. Just death.
The speedball contained enough heroin and coke to take down a Belushi-size human being; it would probably stop her heart in under a minute. And if it didn’t, there was always something more exotic that could be quickly loaded into a syringe. But better if it looked like a pure speedball. That way, Lane Madden would die and go to Hell still wondering what had happened. The Devil could fill her in.
Lane was numb for a few moments. Her body was telling her she was hurt, hurt bad, but she couldn’t find exactly where. The signals in her brain were crossed. She looked around, trying to solve it visually. If she could put together the details, she’d know what happened.
She had broken glass in her lap. The air bag had smashed her in the face. She half pushed it aside. Her right ankle was throbbing. Her foot had somehow wedged itself under the brake pedal.
A few feet ahead she could see the car she’d hit, or the car that had hit her—she wasn’t sure what exactly had happened. The driver’s head was slumped over his wheel. She prayed she hadn’t killed him.
Then someone opened her driver’s-side door, pushed the air bag out of the way.
She looked down and saw the needle in a gloved hand.
Even though she was still wrapped in a cocoon of shock, she knew that the needle was the one detail that didn’t belong.
The stranger grabbed her left wrist, twisted it, jammed the needle into the crook of her arm, depressed the plunger. Lane’s heart began to race. Oh God, what was in that fucking needle? Her vision went blurry. She clawed at the passenger seat, felt the smashed beads of glass.
Lane grabbed a fistful—
—and smashed it into her attacker’s eyes.
There was a horrible scream of rage and suddenly the needle was wobbling loose, hanging off Lane’s arm. She plucked it out it, threw it to the side, then tried to crawl out of the car. Meanwhile her attacker flailed around, blind, looking for her. Cursing, raging at her.
As Lane’s palms dug into the asphalt of the 101, she realized that her right ankle wasn’t working properly. The damned chunky metal weight strapped to it didn’t make it any easier. Her heart was racing way too fast, her skin slick with sweat. The world looked like it had been wrapped in gauze. Lane crawled away on her hands and one good knee, all the way to the fence at the edge of the 101.
And then she hurled herself over it.
California is a beautiful fraud.
WHEELS WERE supposed to be up at 5:30 a.m., but by 5:55 it became clear that wasn’t gonna happen.
The captain told everyone it was just a little trouble with a valve. Once that was fixed and the paperwork was filed, they’d be taking off and headed to LAX. Fifteen minutes, tops. Half hour later, the captain more or less said he’d been full of shit, but really, honest, folks, now it was fixed, and they’d be taking off by 6:45. Thirty minutes later, the captain admitted he was pretty much yanking off / finger-fucking everyone in the airplane, and the likely departure time would be 8 a.m.—something about a sensor needing replacing. Nothing serious.
No, of course not.
So after two hours of being baked alive in a narrow tube, Charlie Hardie took the advice of the flight crew and stepped off to stretch his legs. After an eternity of standing around, his belly rumbling, he decided to make a run to a bakery over at the mall between Terminals B and C. Hardie had taken exactly one bite of his dry bagel when the announcement came over the loudspeakers: Flight fourteen seventeen ready for takeoff. All passengers must report immediately to Terminal B, Gate…
By the time Hardie returned to his seat, carry-on in hand, someone had already commandeered his space in the overhead bin. Hardie glanced forward and back to see if there were any gaps in the luggage where he could slide his bag. Nope. Everything was jammed in tight. Irritated passengers tried to squeeze by him in the aisle, but Hardie wasn’t moving until he found a place for his carry-on. He refused to check it. He’d carefully planned his seat assignments so that he’d be one of the first on the plane, guaranteeing him overhead bin space. It didn’t matter what happened to the rest of his stuff; Hardie just couldn’t lose sight of this carry-on.
“Everything okay?” a gentle voice asked.
A flight attendant—young, smiling, wearing too much makeup, trying to ease the bottleneck in the middle of the plane. Trying to avoid some kind of incident.
Hardie lifted the duffel. “Just trying to find a place for this.”
“Well, I can check it for you.”
“No, you can’t.”
The attendant stared back at him, catching the raw stubbornness in his eyes. She looked uneasy for a moment but quickly recovered:
“Why don’t you slide it under the seat in front of you?” Hardie had tried that once—during his first flight. Some snotass flight attendant had given him crap about height and width and keeping the aisle clear.
“You sure that’s allowed?” he asked.
She touched his wrist and leaned in close. “I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.”
The flight was quiet, monotonous, boring. Landing, too—a soft touchdown in the early-morning gloom. Hardie was thankful that the hard part was over. Within a few hours he would be back to work in a stranger’s home, where he could sink down into a nice fuzzy alcoholic oblivion, just the way he liked it.
Hardie stumbled into his house-sitting career two years ago. He was between budget residence hotels and a friend of a friend had been called off to a job in Scotland, so he asked Hardie if he’d look after his place an hour north of San Diego. Four bedrooms, swimming pool, bunch of lemon trees outside. Hardie got $500 a week as well as a place to stay. He almost felt guilty taking the money, because it was a mindless job. The place didn’t burn down; nobody tried to break in. Hardie watched old movies on DVD and TNT. Drank a lot of bourbon. Munched on crackers. Cleaned up after himself, didn’t pee on the bathroom floor.
The friend of the friend was pleased, and recommended Hardie to other friends—about half of them on the West Coast, half on the East. Word traveled fast; reliable house sitters were hard to come by. What made Hardie appealing was his law enforcement background. Pretty soon Hardie had enough gigs that it made sense for him to stop living in residence hotels and start living out of one suitcase and a carry-on bag. Rendering him essentially homeless, but living in the fanciest abodes in the country. The kinds of places people worked all their lives to afford.
All Hardie had to do was make sure nobody broke in. He also was expected to make sure the houses didn’t catch on fire.
The former was easy. Burglars tended to avoid occupied residences. Hardie knew the standard entry points, so he spent a few minutes upon arrival making sure they were fortified, and then… yeah. That was it. All of the “work” that was required. He made it clear to his booking agent, Virgil, that he didn’t do plants, didn’t do pets. He made sure people didn’t steal shit.
Fires were another story. Especially in Southern California during the season. Hardie’s most recent West Coast gig was in Calabasas, where he watched the home of a TV writer who was over in Germany doing a comedy series. Hardie followed the news reports between sips of Knob Creek, and then without much warning the winds shifted—meaning a wall of fire was racing in his direction.
There was nothing Hardie could do to save the house. So instead, he loaded up every possible thing that would be considered valuable to a writer—manuscripts, notes, hard drives—into his rental. He was still filling every available nook and cranny when the flames reached the backyard. Ash rained on his hood, the top of his head. Hardie made it down the hill and over to the highway, watching the fire begin devouring the house in his rearview mirror. Watching the smoke and choppers reminded Hardie of that old punk song “Stukas over Disneyland.” The fact that Hardie was pretty deep into a bourbon drunk at the time made his great escape all the more amazing.
Because that’s what Hardie did after the “work” was done and the house was fortified—drank, watched old movies. When Hardie stopped understanding the plot, he knew he’d reached his limit. He’d put down the bottle and close his eyes. He didn’t worry about not being able to hear home invaders, or sirens, or any of that. The stubborn lizard cop part of his brain refused to shut off. Which, Hardie thought, was why he drank so much.
See, it was all one neat little circle.
After the Calabasas fire, and weeks of hawking black gunk out of his lungs, Hardie decided he’d had enough of SoCal for a while. He did some jobs in New York City, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Boston, even DC for one wretchedly humid week. The writer from Calabasas was grateful Hardie had managed to save so much of his material, so it wasn’t as if he suffered poor marks on his housesitter report card. In fact, Hardie had more job offers than he could handle. His living expenses—booze, used DVDs, a little bit of food—were minimal. He sent the rest of his earnings to a PO Box in a suburb of Philadelphia.
When this new California offer came up, Hardie decided it was okay to go back. The house was nestled right on the Hollywood Hills, and the ground was just as dry, probably drier, than it had been the previous year. Which had been an especially bad year for wildfires.
But it was also coming up on the three-year anniversary of the day Hardie’s life ended, and he wanted to be as far away from Philadelphia as possible. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the Eastern seaboard, in fact.
Hardie made his way out of the cramped tube, trying to stretch his sore body while walking. Nobody would let him. Bodies rushed past him from behind, nearly collided into him from the front. He felt like a human pinball. Down a flight of stairs he came to the luggage carousel and waited for the bags to start being vomited up from below.
Nearby, a little boy, about eight years old, squeezed his mother’s hand. He glanced over his shoulder at the automatic doors every time they whooshed open. Down the carousel was a girl—dark hair, pretty eyes, vintage purse tucked under her arm. She tapped her high-heeled shoe to a slow, slow song.
The carousel kept churning. Airport carousels always reminded Hardie of a suit of armor, dirty and scuffed, as if a knight had fallen into a trash compactor.
The bags were belched up one at a time. None of them looked like Hardie’s. There was a loud cry to his left. The little boy was running toward the doors. A man in his late thirties stopped in his tracks, took a knee, then held his arms out as the boy tackled him. He lifted the boy up off the ground and spun him in a half circle. Hardie looked back at the carousel. The girl with the purse, the one who’d been tapping her shoe, was gone. He guessed her bag had come up.
Finally all of the bags were up and claimed, leaving Hardie to stare at the empty metal carousel, turning and turning and turning.
The suitcase contained nothing of real value—a couple of gray T-shirts, jeans, socks, deodorant and toothpaste, some DVD standbys. And Hardie still had his carry-on bag, thank God.
But the loss was still annoying. He would have no change of clothes until the airline located his suitcase—if they located it, ha ha ha—and had it delivered. Hardie went to the airline desk near the carousel and filled out a form with boxes too small for even his small, tight printing. He wrote down the address of the house he’d agreed to watch, wondering how the promised courier service would ever find it.
The owner, a musician named Andrew Lowenbruck, had told Virgil that the place was notoriously well hidden, even to people familiar with the tangle of intestines that made up the roadways of the original Hollywood Hills. Some deliverymen insisted that Alta Brea Drive didn’t even exist.
Hardie figured he might see his bag somewhere on old episodes of The Twilight Zone. Maybe tucked into the background behind Burgess Meredith, or in the overhead bin over William Shatner’s head.
Still, Hardie dutifully filled out the missing-bag form, then hopped a dirty, off-white shuttle bus to the rental-car area. Hardie hated renting cars, because it was one more thing to look after. But you couldn’t be in the Hollywood Hills without a car. What was he supposed to do? Take a bus to Franklin and Beachwood, then hike on up to the house?
Lowenbruck was supposed to have met him at the place this morning. But he’d sent an apologetic e-mail last night to the service explaining that he had to be in Moscow earlier than expected. Lowenbruck was working on the sound track for a movie by an eccentric Russian director who wouldn’t let the unfinished reels leave his native country, so he had to fly out to watch an early cut to start gathering ideas. His original flight was canceled; the replacement left eight hours earlier. Virgil told him that Lowenbruck was known for his “pulse-pounding” action scores—the modern-day Bernard Herrmann, they called him. Hardie didn’t know what was wrong with the original.
So… Hardie wouldn’t be meeting him. But that wasn’t unusual. He rarely met the owners of the houses he watched—it was mostly handled by Virgil at the service, who in turn handled things by e-mail and FedEx key exchange.
Which was probably for the better. If they had a look at Hardie, some owners might change their minds.
Instead, Hardie got to know his clients by the stuff they left behind. The photos on their walls, the DVDs on their shelves, the food in their fridges. Stuff doesn’t lie.
As it turned out, Alta Brea Drive wasn’t too hard to find. Just shoot up Beachwood, the main drag, until you hit a dead end at the fairy tale–looking houses. Hang a sharp left on Belden, which only looks like somebody’s driveway—swear to God, it’s a real road, don’t worry, keep driving. Then, follow the intestinal tract straight up into the Hills until it looks like you are going to drive over the edge of a road and tumble down a ravine to your death. Then, at the last possible moment is another turn, and you find yourself in front of Andrew Lowenbruck’s house.
Hardie was thankful it was daylight. How the hell did people do this in the dark?
These roads weren’t meant for two-way traffic, let alone a row of parked cars along the sides. But that’s what people did up here, apparently—good luck sorting it all out. Still, Hardie made it up the mountain without an accident, and that’s all that mattered.
Hardie had been up in the Hollywood Hills before, watching other houses. But never in this specific area—the original Hollywoodland development known as Beachwood Canyon. The whole setup looked way too fragile to Hardie. Back in Philly, he’d had grown up in a $7,000 two-story row house, which was wedged in with hundreds of other row houses on flat tracts of land that stretched river to river.
Out here was the opposite—all hills and heights and precariously perched multimillion-dollar homes. Every time Hardie looked at the Hollywood Hills, he half-expected to hear a loud wooden snap and then whooosh. All of the houses would slide down from their mountain perches and end up in a giant pit of broken lumber and glass at the bottom of the canyon.
Which was just one of the many reasons Hardie drank a little bit more when he sat one of these houses.
Hardie pulled up in front and turned off his rental—a Honda Whatever that felt and drove like a plastic box. Forget Alta Brea Drive; Hardie wasn’t entirely convinced this car was real. But it was part of the airline–rental-car package he’d found online. He didn’t plan on driving it much, anyway. All he needed was a way to get to a grocery store to buy food and booze, and then eventually a way back to the airport.
There were two other homes on this twisting bit of road, one on either side of Lowenbruck’s place, all three of them clinging to the side of the mountain. Across Alta Brea was a rocky cliff covered in foliage. A crew of two workmen in buff jumpsuits were busy hacking away at the brush with chain saws. On top of the cliff was another of what Californians called a “house.” The only part you could see from street level was a turret, standing tall, looking like it was part of a full-fledged castle. That was the thing about these hills. No matter where you built your castle, there was always somebody with a bigger castle, higher up than yours.
From street level, Lowenbruck’s place looked like nothing more than a wide, flat bungalow. Spanish-tile roof, freshly painted stucco exterior. On the left was a single-car garage. In the middle was a sturdy front door cut from solid oak, and on the right, windows that would offer you a wide-screen view if tall shrubs weren’t in the way.
But Hardie knew this was just the top level. Virgil told him the place had three floors; the other two were built down along the side of the mountain. In his instructions, Lowenbruck called it his “upside-down house.”
The house was famous in a minor way. In 1949 a film noir called Surrounded had been set here, as well as parts of a 1972 neonoir called The Glass Jungle. This was no accident. The director of Glass Jungle was a big fan of Surrounded and had spent a lot of time on permissions for the location. Later still, in 2005, they remade Surrounded—this time calling it Dead by Dawn—but left out the house altogether. Hardie hadn’t seen any of the films, but Lowenbruck told Virgil there were copies at the house—the sitter should check them out, just for fun. Hardie would check out the first one, but not the others. He had a rule these days: he didn’t watch any movies made after he was born.
Seems the movies were another reason Lowenbruck wanted a house-sitter. Every few days some noir geek would just show up and start snapping photos of the house. Some would even try to sweet-talk their way in, as if the place were just a vacant movie prop and not a real place where actual people lived.
Late last night, when he had to catch his sudden plane to Moscow, Lowenbruck e-mailed Virgil to say he’d leave keys in his mailbox.
No keys in the mailbox.
Nobody came, nobody cares. It’s still not about anything.
—Bill Cosby, Hickey & Boggs
LEAVING THE keys to your $3.7-million-dollar home in your mailbox is never a good idea. But Lowenbruck had insisted—there was no time to FedEx them to Hardie, and he didn’t know any neighbors to leave them with. Couldn’t Hardie just let himself in? They’d be in the mailbox, what, a matter of eight hours?
Hardie pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket, pressed the auto-dial number of Virgil’s office. He waited. Nothing happened. Upon closer examination, Hardie realized that there were no bars on the screen. Probably the damned hills, blocking everything.
Hardie decided he wanted a beer. Like, yeah, right now. It was super-early in the morning, but maybe that’s what he should do. Get back in the Honda Whatever, drive back down to level ground, and buy some beer. Perhaps by the time he got back, the keys would have magically reappeared in the mailbox. If not, drink another beer. Repeat until reality conformed.
Hardie realized that unless he wanted to guard this damned place from outside, he’d have to figure out some way of breaking in.
He examined the front, looking for entry points, hoping for an obvious weakness. The oak door was solid, locked. The widescreen windows were locked as well—and wired. Hardie spied the security transmitters mounted in the corners of the frames. Lowenbruck had given Virgil the keypad code, but that was useless with Hardie locked outside now, wasn’t it?
Moving toward the right side of the property, past some eucalyptus bushes, Hardie craned his neck until he saw a wooden sundeck hanging off the back of the house. It was supported by narrow metal poles and fitted with a wrought-iron railing. If he could make it onto the deck, he could probably jimmy open the back doors. The only problem: there was no easy way up to the deck. From the edge, there was a fifty-foot drop to the ground. Not unless Hardie wanted to climb onto the roof, and then jump down onto the deck.
The latter, of course, seemed to be the only option.
Hardie sighed. Was he really going to do this? Who knows what kind of trouble he might get into up there. One slip and he could end up with a broken leg down in the ravine, bobcats circling him.
Hardie slid the phone into his pocket, climbed behind the wheel, pulled the Honda Whatever up closer to the garage door, then parked. He stepped onto the hood of the car and scrambled up the slanted tile roof. The tiles were warm from the sun. Hardie had a vision of the damned things breaking loose, sliding down the roof, and shattering on the pavement, one after the other after the other. Hardie was a large man; he didn’t know if the makers of Spanish tile took his size and weight into consideration.
But he made it to the peak of the roof without incident. There he paused. The lush bowl of the hills was laid out beneath him, and off in the distance were the hazy glass-and-metal skyscrapers of downtown L.A. Hardie instantly understood the appeal of living here. Even though the sides of the mountain were littered with homes, there was the illusion that yours was the only one that mattered, that the rest of these properties had been assembled here for your benefit. No one else had a view like yours, not the homes above nor the ones below. You had a front-row seat to the big show. You could enjoy it anytime you liked… when you weren’t slaving away on a sound track, that is. Hardie wondered how much Lowenbruck enjoyed his view. He doubted the man ever climbed up onto his own roof to catch this particular vista.
Okay, enough. Sooner or later somebody was going to look up and see Hardie standing here, looking like an idiot.
Hardie spied the deck and began to make his way over to it, arms out for balance. Still, he couldn’t help but glance down at the houses below. The different-colored roofs, the pools, the terracotta patios.
And through a clearing in the trees, on the back deck of the house closest to Lowenbruck’s, a nude woman sunbathing.
It almost looked like a mirage. The branches and trees made a perfect frame around her body, blocking out everything but her astounding and abundant nakedness. She was full-chested, with pink nipples that looked too delicate to be out in the bright California sun. Her body was muscled, perfectly shaved, and oiled—as far as Hardie could tell—from her nose down. Her skin practically glistened. Hardie wondered why Lowenbruck hadn’t left the keys with her.
The woman’s eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. She held a cell phone to her ear. And while her mouth moved, the words didn’t travel the distance uphill.
Hardie froze in place, pitched precariously on the downward slope of the roof. He stared for a few moments before he realized that, fuck, she could probably see him, too.
Probably telling a friend on the phone: You’re never going to believe this, but some idiot is standing up on the roof of my neighbor’s place, staring at my tits.
Hardie continued his descent, placed a hand on the hot tile for balance, then jumped down onto the back deck. Something squished underfoot. Hardie was almost afraid to look… then did. Some kind of animal had been up here recently and had left a large deposit on Lowenbruck’s sundeck. Not a bird; this beast appeared to enjoy a heartier diet than seeds and grass.
Fortunately, Hardie had packed another pair of shoes.
Unfortunately, they were in his missing suitcase.
Hardie tiptoed over and tried the sliding glass doors. Miraculously, they were unlocked. Either Lowenbruck forgot or he wasn’t in the habit of locking it.
The moment the contacts separated, however, the alarm was triggered—a shrill repeating bee-BEEP bee-BEEP. Thirty seconds and counting. Hardie knew there was a keypad by the front door. He needed to reach it fast or he’d have company soon, and that would no doubt push back his drinking by a few hours more.
Just as he was about to step inside he remembered the unidentified animal crap on his shoes. Hardie worked off one shoe hurriedly with the back of the other, reached down, yanked off its companion, then darted through the open doors looking for anything, anything at all, resembling a security keypad.
There were too many things hanging on the walls near the front door, too much clutter. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck…
Hardie found it and jabbed the code in with two seconds to spare.
The key situation would have to be figured out sooner rather than later—Hardie didn’t want to leave the premises unlocked for any period of time, nor did he want to climb the tiled roof again to make a grocery run. Maybe he could have some booze delivered? No. Because that would require a working cell phone, and Virgil had told him that Lowenbruck didn’t have a landline.
Anyway, first things first: house check.
The sliding doors from the back deck opened up into a media room—and immediately Hardie knew he’d lucked out. Wallmounted plasma TV, stereo components whose brand name Hardie only recognized from other houses he’d watched. Overstuffed black leather couch, which Hardie immediately decided would be his home base for most of the next month. The wall shelves contained row upon row of DVDs, many of them classics—which was fantastic. Old movies gave him something to fill the long days. He remembered the special Hell of a Myrtle Beach condo that lacked not just cable or satellite TV but a TV as well. Longest two weeks of his life.
The rest of the top floor seemed to be little more than a lifesupport system for the media room. The locked front door led to the vestibule and beyond that a winding staircase with wroughtiron rail, leading down to the lower floors.
The stairwell was lined with cardboard standees of 1980s white tough-guy actors, arranged Sgt. Pepper–style. Clint. McQueen. Bruce. Sly. Arnie. Van Damme. Segal. And, strangely, Gene Hackman. This was seventies Hackman. Crazy-man Hackman. Night Moves and Conversation and French Connection Hackman. The collage of 2-D tough guys looked like it had been stuck up there for a while. The edges of the cardboard were frayed, cracked, and torn in places, and the material itself was yellowing. The surfaces featured a film of dust, and various body parts—an elbow, a foot—had come unstuck from the wall. Either Lowenbruck really loved his action heroes, or some previous owner had, and Lowenbruck thought it easier to leave the whole thing up.
The next room was a smallish dining area, though clearly nobody ever ate in here. The table was covered in scripts, DVDs, CDs, old newspapers, staff paper, pencils. A peek inside a cupboard door revealed more battered scripts, yellowing newspapers, and about forty copies of a sound track called Two-Way Split on CD.
The galley kitchen was clean but spare. Seemed like not much cooking happened in here. No booze in the cabinets, no food in the fridge, except for a box of baking soda and a glass jar of martini olives shoved in the back.
Half bathroom off to one side. Handy. Probably thirty paces between the leather couches and the porcelain throne here. That would make life easy.
On the other side of the kitchen, a door led to a tiny twoperson deck with a hard-plastic Adirondack chair and a Weber Baby grill, overlooking another part of the hills. Hardie looked through the window and thought he could make out part of the Griffith Observatory. No other nude sunbathers in sight, however. Which was a little disappointing. Would have been nice to have the ladies in stereo.
So, three entrances so far:
Back patio doors (if you felt like walking on the roof );
Side patio door (if you were to somehow climb up the side of the house and vault over the railing).
All locks in working order as far as Hardie could tell.
Hardie retraced his steps, passed the gang of action heroes, gave Hackman a respectful nod—
—then continued down the wide stairs as they spun him around to face… a closed set of double doors. Which seemed weird, until Hardie opened them up and walked into a large music studio, soundproofing everywhere.
Ah, so this was the padded treasure in the heart of the Lowenbruck castle: the recording studio. The space was tricked out with enough gear to make the upstairs media room look like a kids’ Fisher-Price set. Huge, wide-screen plasma TV, a mixing console the size of a back porch, multiple keyboards, amplifiers, heaps of spaghetti cable.
Virgil had told him:
“Lowenbruck’s insanely anal about his studio. Don’t even go in there if you can avoid it. Just make sure nothing happens to it.”
“I’ve got explicit instructions here. Like, don’t even turn a knob.”
“What am I, in high school?”
“Just telling you what’s here on the form.”
“Okay, Virge. It won’t be easy, but somehow I’ll resist the urge to record my Pet Sounds tribute.”
Nothing else down here—was there room for anything else?—except two other padded doors. One was open a few inches, and obviously led to a bathroom. Hardie could see a white-tile floor and the edge of a silver mirror. He supposed that when Lowenbruck was in full-on work mode, this was all he needed. His keyboards and a place to take a leak or splash water on his face from time to time. The other door probably led downstairs to the third-floor bedroom.
Hardie was about to head down when the bathroom door flew open all the way and someone screamed and rushed at him and hit him on the head with something really, really hard.
I don’t make things difficult. That’s the way they get, all by themselves.
—Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon
THE FIRST blow dazed Hardie, made his vision go fuzzy, sent him stumbling one step to the side. The second blow struck him on the upper arm. The entire limb went numb. Some muscle memory kicked in just in time for the third blow. Hardie was able to block the hard, shiny object with a forearm.
With his other hand he snatched out and grabbed a wrist, then twisted it hard. His attacker—a young girl, he could see now—cried out. Hardie yanked her out of the bathroom doorway and spun her into the room proper. Her back hit a mixing board, and her head banged into a monitor that was hanging from the ceiling.
Hardie held up his hands. Tried to, anyway. His left arm was still numb. At least the right one still worked.
His voice sounded strange to him. Hardie couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken out loud.
The girl was wearing only panties and a T-shirt, and her ankle was bandaged. Her legs were lean and muscled. Her whole body trembled.
“Get the fuck away from me or I’ll cut you, I swear to God I’ll jam this straight up your ass!”
Hardie looked at the this in her hands. He couldn’t place it. Long, silver, metal. A tube of some kind. About two feet long, with the circumference of a nickel. Uncapped on the end. Then he looked behind her, into the music studio, and saw others just like it.
A microphone stand.
She had been beating the shit out of him with a mic stand. Hardie said, in a slow and steady and reasonable voice:
“Give me that.”
“I said, stay the fuck away! You people are making a big mistake.”
“You people? Only one of me here, honey.”
There was something vaguely familiar about the girl’s face, like he should know her from somewhere. Had Lowenbruck sent Virgil anything about her, maybe attached a photo to an e-mail? No, Hardie would have remembered that. Nobody was supposed to be here in the house. No girlfriends, no relatives, no friends—nobody. Hardie wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise. That was the whole point. Avoiding people.
Hardie steadied himself, took a step closer. The girl responded by swinging at the air with the mic stand, then inching her way back into the studio.
“Come on, now. Enough’s enough.”
“Stay the fuck away from me!”
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
The girl’s hands fell to her sides. Her head hung low. Her entire body went limp, and she started breathing strangely. It took Hardie a second or two to realize she was launching into a full-on crying jag. He took a step toward her, said:
“Look, why don’t we start with—”
Without warning she lunged. Another hard, mean swing. Hardie was ready this time. He snatched the pole in his hand and refused to let go. She tugged. He held firm. She tugged again. He held on tighter. Uh-uh. Bitch was not getting her mic stand back. Bitch was definitely not hitting him with the mic stand again.
Then she did something Hardie did not anticipate. She lunged forward, pushing the mic stand toward Hardie. His grip was not prepared for this. The mic stand slid through his fist and went into his chest.
Both Hardie and the girl looked down at the pole for a moment before Hardie took a confused step backward. What had just happened?
“Ugh,” he said.
“Oh God,” she said.
Hardie forced himself to look down. Yep. He’d been impaled. Under his gray T-shirt he could feel blood trickling down across his right nipple, along his belly, past the waistband of his jeans. None of this seemed real. He took a breath, wondering if one of his lungs was going to collapse. Maybe pass out. Any second now.
But nothing yet. Somehow, he was still standing.
“Oh God,” the girl repeated, and immediately yanked the mic stand out.
“No, don’t do—”
Too late. The metal slid out of his flesh with a soft, wet shucking sound—like the meat of an oyster being pried from its shell. Hardie took an involuntary step backward, as if he could remove himself from the damage. The girl, too, edged backward, looked alternatively angry, shocked, and confused.
“I told you… I told you I’d hurt you!”
And make no mistake. The wound in his chest really fucking hurt, pain ramping up with every breath, it seemed. But somehow he was still standing, fully conscious. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it had missed everything vital—the heart, the aorta, the lungs, the liver. Then again, maybe she’d nailed his heart right smack-dab in the fucking center and he was going to bleed out in a matter of seconds.
Hardie looked into the bathroom doorway for a towel, something to press against his chest. Maybe wrap around the wound. He took a step forward. Which freaked out the girl.
“Stay the fuck away from me!”
“I’m not going anywhere near you. Believe me.”
The girl tried to focus on him. Every muscle in her body was tensed, but her eyelids were strangely droopy. The combination of anxiety and lethargy suggested the girl had been playing mix and match in a medicine cabinet. Maybe Lowenbruck kept a bunch of pharmaceuticals handy and this girl knew it.
Whatever. Hardie took a few cautious steps into the bathroom, snatched the edges of a white terry-cloth towel and whipped it from the rack. He quickly folded it in half, held it under the entrance wound. Usually, the advice was simple: direct pressure, stop the bleeding. But what the fuck were you supposed to do when somebody impaled you?
Hardie looked at the girl.
“Why did you do that?”
“You’re one of Them… admit it!”
“I don’t know who you mean by Them, but I can assure you, I’m not.”
“Then, what the fuck are you doing in here?”
“I’m the house sitter.”
Her long dark hair hung down in her face, and her skin was dirty in places. Lots of scratches, too, along with a stray bruise or two. She’d bandaged up both of her hands—a sloppy, rushed job. Still, she was a pretty girl. Wide, full mouth, high cheekbones, and eyes that would be striking if she could manage to keep them open all the way—and somebody hosed her off in the backyard for a few minutes.
“House sitter. I watch houses.”
“Why would a fucking house sitter go sneaking around the house, checking every room? Don’t fucking deny it—I heard you!”
Hardie had had enough standing. He carefully eased himself down to a sitting position. If he was going to pass out, he’d rather do it closer to the floor.
“Look, honey, I just got here. Question is, what are you doing here? Because I’m pretty sure my booking agent didn’t mention anything about a crackhead with a mic stand, hiding in the bathroom.”
She rolled her eyes. “Crackhead. Don’t you know who I am?”
“Sweetie, I have no idea.”
The faintest trace of a smile appeared for a moment, then vanished. Then she started trembling.
Hardie had no idea who she was, but a story started to form in his mind. Beneath all of the patches of dirt and scratches and attitude, she appeared to be a perfectly young and healthy girl—not your average skinny L.A. junkie with buggy eyes and cheekbones that could cut tin cans. This girl had been well fed and cared for until relatively recently. Like, maybe even just a few hours ago. Maybe her parents owned a place farther down Alta Brea, or somewhere else in Beachwood Canyon. Maybe she’d stayed up past her bedtime partying hard, an asshole friend suggesting a quick cokeand-H nightcap. Mellow out and party all night long!
Yeah, maybe that was it. She shoots up, she freaks. Knows she can’t go home to Mom and Dad. Not in that condition. Sees the Lowenbruck house. Finds the keys in the mailbox. Still freaking, worried about Them—parents? cops? dealers?—coming for her. Grabs a mic stand—yeah, that still didn’t make sense to him either, but he supposed a weapon was a weapon—then hit the bathroom.
Enter Charlie Hardie, Human Pincushion.
He hoped she had parents. He’d love to send them his emergency-room bill.
With every second that passed, Hardie came to believe that maybe the pole had missed all of the important bits. His sisterin-law-nurse back in Philly had told him a bunch of crazy ER stories—thugs rolling in with twenty, thirty stab wounds, yet still smoking cigarettes and annoyed to have to wait around so long even though they don’t have proper ID, let alone health insurance.
But Hardie had also heard plenty of the opposite, too. Stupid bar fights where one sloppy stab with a greasy butter knife ends up with one man DOA and another facing a manslaughter beef.
And when it came to medical luck, Hardie was reasonably confident that he’d used it all up three years ago.
She’d stabbed a man.
He was probably one of Them, but still… she didn’t mean to puncture his chest. She just wanted to knock him out—though her favorite stunt coordinator, Enrico Cifelli, had once told her how ridiculous that was.
Sure, you saw it in the movies all the time. But Enrico told her that blows to the top of the head almost never render the person unconscious. What it might do, however, is cause the diaphragm muscles to freak out, making it difficult for that person to breathe. Left untreated, it would kill him.
Of course, try to keep all of that in mind when you think you’re being hunted. This was not a movie set; she hadn’t gone through endless repetition, practicing a single move so that it could be filmed. When you’re being hunted, you kind of just wing it.
And now she’d stabbed a man.
Hardie struggled up off the floor, fully expecting to pass out at any second. Before that happened, the dirty psycho chick had to go. To the hospital, to the LAPD, whatever. He supposed he should involve the LAPD because—well, she’d impaled him. And broken into the house. Those still counted as crimes, even in L.A.
“Are you okay?” she asked, hand out, as if to help him up. She took great care not to actually touch him, though. She gestured as if Hardie had an invisible force field around his body.
Hardie shot her a look.
“Hey,” she said. “I said I was sorry.”
Hardie said, “Pretty sure I missed that.”
“Well, I’m saying it now.”
“Whatever. Does your cell phone work?”
“Well, I’d like to call nine one one, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble. Maybe we can call someone for you, too. Like your mom or dad, maybe?”
The girl’s jaw dropped. “My mom?”
“You look pretty banged up. Maybe you should go to the hospital, too. Maybe they can give us adjoining rooms, just in case you feel like ramming something sharp through my body again.”
“You just want me to go outside.”
“Unless there’s an emergency room in the basement, yeah.”
This was getting them nowhere. What was he doing, anyway? Why did he give a shit about this girl, or even this house? Hello, Earth to Charlie: You have been impaled by a steel tube. You belong in a hospital.
She was looking at him. “You say you’re the house sitter.”
“What’s your name?”
“Charlie. And yours?”
“Last name.” This was a command, not a question.
“I’m supposed to just, what?… Believe you?”
Hardie thought about taking a better look at his wound but then changed his mind when his chest started throbbing. He took a semideep breath, wondering if he’d feel his lung collapse suddenly. It made him angry. She did this to him, and now she was giving him shit?
“You want to go upstairs and trade driver’s licenses? Because that’s all I’ve got. I seem to have left my birth certificate and Social Security card at home. Sorry.”
“That’s just what you’d want, isn’t it? Me to follow you upstairs.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
The girl’s eyes darted around wildly as she processed his words. Then her brain seemed to slip back into gear.
“Okay, let’s say you’re not one of Them.”
“Let’s do more than say it. Let’s believe it, because I’m fucking not.”
“If you’re not one of Them, how did you get into the house? I have the keys.”
“Ah, from the mailbox, right?”
So Andrew Lowenbruck had left the keys after all. Sorry, good sir, that I ever doubted you. Seems like this skinny, spoiled party girl went helping herself. Hardie smiled, but that just seemed to piss her off.
“I asked you,” she repeated, making sure he understood every syllable, even though her voice was trembling. “How. Did. You. Get. In?”
“Yeah. I heard. And thanks to you, I had to walk across the roof and use the sliding doors on the deck.”
“Shit—did anybody see you?”
“See me what?”
“When you walked into the house, did anybody see you? Was anybody watching?”
Hardie thought about his walk across the tile roof and almost said, Well, yeah, there was this woman with amazing tits who caught me breaking into the house, but that didn’t seem like a good way to put this girl at ease.
Before Hardie had a chance to answer, the girl pushed herself back a few inches, creeping away from him, shaking her head back and forth, pure panic on her face.
“No… oh God, what if they saw you? Shit, if they saw you…” Back to them again.
“Nobody’s outside. It’s just you and me, honey.”
Well, and the sunbathing babe.
This was getting old fast. Hardie was wondering what he was going to say to Lowenbruck about all of this. Because after he got this girl calmed and into his rental car, he would have to call the police—and then Virgil. But there wasn’t any way around that. Lowenbruck would need a report for his insurance. Especially if she broke anything. God knows what she did to this place since helping herself to the keys. Goldilocks only ate porridge and smashed chairs and fell asleep in beds. And Goldilocks wasn’t a teenaged junkie.
The girl had obviously helped herself to the keys, but how did she manage to deactivate the alarm? It had been set when Hardie had opened the sliding doors.
The story in his head changed.
Maybe this wasn’t a college girl. Maybe this was one of Lowenbruck’s barely legal exes. She didn’t have keys, but she knew the security code because he never bothered to change it. She runs into trouble, goes to the first place that comes to mind.
Either way, Hardie had to get her out of here and the police thing over with. He was exhausted. Being stabbed in the chest didn’t help his mood either. He hoped it was a few stitches and a couple of Vikes kind of situation… not a go-to-a-hospital-for-major-surgery-because,-oh,-your-lung-is-collapsing kind of situation. He still didn’t want to look down at the wound.
Hardie took a step forward, held out his hand. “C’mon.”
The girl seemed outraged by the suggestion.
“Don’t you come anywhere near me.”
“We both need a trip to the hospital. We can sort this all out in the waiting room.”
“You don’t understand. I’m not leaving this house. I don’t care what you say or what you do, but I’m not leaving.”
No, Hardie didn’t understand, but add it to the long, long list of things he didn’t understand.
And then the world around them fell silent.
Excerpted from Fun and Games by Swierczynski, Duane Copyright © 2011 by Swierczynski, Duane. Excerpted by permission.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Duane Swierczynski is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the book world. Sure, he starts with established archetypes and classic story lines. But he makes them new and making them new makes them fun. This guy is a great storyteller. I never know what he is going to come up with or where he is going to take me. I just know I won't be complaining about a thing once I get there.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Charlie Hardie has lived the hard life and was now drinking himself in oblivion one house sitting job at a time. He was a reliable source to stay put, water your plants, and make sure no one breaks into your house. Therefore, what a surprise for Charlie when he arrives at his latest job someone has gotten there before him who knows how to throw a microphone stand. The intruder turns out to be actress, Lane Madden who swears "The Accident People" are after her and if they find her, she is dead, again. They have tried to kill her already and staying out of sight was her main objective that became impossible when Charlie dropped into her life, literally. He is not sure what parts he believes and which are just good acting but the one thing he knows for sure is the actress is a very good liar and her story may add up but it is not straight up. Charlie finds "they" have every high power weapon, every spy trick known to every side of the game and no issues with killing anyone that blocks their objective of eliminating that seen as a problem. However, Charlie is a fighter and he is not going down without taking out as many of them as he can if only he can survive. There are multiple attacks on him and Lane, be able to crawl up the side of a canyon and convince the police that he is not a bad guy just a man with a questionable past and shaky future. Wow is an understatement for this book. The action starts on the first page and never stops during one single line. When you get to the last line, you know you are pre-ordering the next book and the one after that today.
I was a little disappointed by Swierczynski's last book (Expiration Date), but much happier with this one. More in the vein of his "The Wheelman", this is a fun read -- the kind of book I like to take on the plane with me when traveling. The action keeps up all the way through, and I'm left looking forward to the second installment.
Charlie Hardie flies to Hollywood to house sit, but when he arrives, the keys aren't in the mailbox and someone is already in the house. Things go downhill from there when he discovers a B-movie actress in the house who is convinced that people are trying to kill her. The action is non-stop in this first book of a trilogy, and my only complaint is how long I have to wait to read the next two books.Thanks to LibraryThing early reviewers for a chance to read this outstanding book.
If any book (that isn't actually about a roller coaster) deserves to be called a roller coaster ride, it is this one. Swierczynzki drags you, willing or not, into this sordid tale of an ex-Philadelphia cop and a young actress who both have big secrets to hide. She is on the verge of a comeback; he has been reduced to drunken housesitting. But when he shows up at his next assignment in the Hollywood Hills, the two meet and one of the more interesting relationships in noir fiction begins. This book is ultra-graphic and revels in some pretty disturbing images, somewhat dulled by the fatalistic attitude of the ex-cop, Hardie. There were a couple of times it was almost too much for me, but the author keeps throwing in twist after twist and you have to keep reading. The thing is, you see, Hardie and the actress are being pursued by "The Accident People" who treat murder as an exercise in scenario planning and possess a bizarre variety of electronic devices, drugs, poisons, and other handy implements. The book is way over the top and full of implausibilities, and there are far too many times when someone should be dead but isn't, but it doesn't give you much time to reflect too much on its weaknesses until it is done. On a more positive note, the depiction of the book's various locations is great, and will probably have you on Google Maps before you know it.In the end, it is a very satisfying read, with the important caveat that this is only the first book in a trilogy. By the end, I'm hoping all the bad guys get what they deserve, but it is a reasonable question as to whether it deserves what projects to be something in excess of 800 pages. The best comparison I can think of is Tarantino's Kill Bill films. By the end of the second installment, much of the novelty and admiration for the director's technique wears off. Let's see if Swierczynski fares any better in the last two-thirds of this series.
This is the start of a new trilogy by Swierczynski. It's got rollercoaster action. I enjoyed the main character, Charlie Hardie, quite a bit¿he's an interesting mix of the cynical, depressed noir detective and the wrong-guy-to-piss-off action hero with a sense of humor (albeit a dark one). I like that we've got a complete episode in this book while the larger conspiracy angle will span the three volumes. It's fairly violent, though it skirts around being too much. As with the first of his books I read (Expiration Date), there's this sense of Swierczynski's background as a comic book writer: a quick, fast-paced and breezy style of writing that's perfect when you're in the mood for something not so serious.
The Bookish Dame Reviews :Talk about fun and games! Take a wild ride with Duane Swierczynski (czyn=sin). If he's driving you're being slammed left and right, high and low and you're scared to death. He writes like a heart attack on wheels, and you'll have to tear yourself away from his book before your ride is over. Oh, this is good writing...fast and furious, and peppered with reckless people who riddle the book throughout making you hold your breath while they find a way through impossible situations. Did this book fire me up? Yep. I loved the action. Duane doesn't let up on us...once engaged he simply takes us for a spin like it's real life and we're going down with his characters.Speaking of his characters: Lane, his primary female protagonist, is a feisty, smart and beautiful girl who is nobody's fool. I loved that about her. She could easily have been a wimpy movie star mowed over by his other characters, but Duane made her worthy of a respectable battle. Nice! She was tough and tender, making her a character women can identify with and follow with enjoyment.Charlie Hardie is a complex character. Swierczynski keeps referring to his "lizard brain" and I'm not too sure I understand that. Did he mean that he was a guy who just reacted instead of thinking a situation out? I suppose that was it but when he had to, he planned and executed along with the best of them. It seemed to me he was fast thinking and not afraid to act in a tough spot which made the action twice as interesting."They" were despicable. The people out to kill Lane and others were so skillfully drawn that I actually hated the leader and found myself fighting against them in my mind. This is significant because it shows how involved the reader becomes in Duane's book! I can't remember being so tied up in knots about a thriller scene such as he describes it. Not just one, but one after another after another hard-hitting engagement comes at the reader and we're just incapable of putting this book down for hours.I was happy to know at the end it seemed we weren't going to see the last of Charlie. I'm now pretty attached to him. "Fun & Games" is, happily, the first in a series with the newest book "Hell & Gone" being released in October. I highly recommend "Fun & Games" because it's a wild ride of excitement and suspense. Welcome to the world of Charlie Hardie... Duane Swierczynski is a crime writer extraordinaire!5 well-deserved starsDeborah/TheBookishDame*Rec'd this complimentary book for review without monetary compensation. The review, however, is my own honest and thoughtful opinion.
I recently discovered Duane Swierczynski¿s writing with Expiration Date. Swierczynski is of the school of writers who want to glue their books to your hands until you finish them and finally set them aside with a sigh of pleasure ¿ and immediately reach for the next book in the series. The writing is smooth and fast and fun. In Fun and Games, Swierczynski starts a trilogy of novels starring Charlie Hardie. Charlie is an ex-policeman of sorts (what sort is not yet clear) who now housesits for the wealthy for his living. Housesitting, to him, means making sure the house is secure and then sprawling on a couch in front of a television set, watching old movies and drinking himself into unconsciousness. Hardie drinks to forget how he managed to get his best friend and his entire family killed ¿ enough to drive just about anyone to the bottle. Hardie lands a housesitting gig in the Hollywood Hills. The house belongs to a composer who is writing a score for a film in Russia, apparently having been called in at the last minute and therefore in such a rush that he has to leave the keys in the mailbox, rather than mailing a set to Hardie. When Hardie arrives, the keys aren¿t there, and he has to climb over the roof and get in through the patio door. It¿s pretty clear by now that Hardie isn¿t your typical housesitter, who would have called a locksmith or the agency that doles out his jobs rather than climbing a roof. But Hardie quickly has reason to display his uniqueness in great detail, for the house contains an intruder. She¿s a little thing, this intruder, but she has starred in a lot of action films, and she knows how to defend herself from any and all threats, and Hardie sure as hell seems like a threat to her. Once she¿s satisfied herself that Hardie is not, in fact, what she¿s afraid of (after doing him some serious damage), she explains about Them. They¿re The Accident People, the folks who make sure that the powerful (however you might wish to define that term) are never held responsible for anything they do wrong. A movie star is involved in a hit and run, killing a child? Easy to cover up. That same movie star starts to have an attack of conscience and wants to come clean? Then that movie star has to die to protect everyone involved in the cover-up. And it¿s plenty easy to do, too. Soon Hardie has joined forces with the woman he finds in the house, fighting for his life as well as hers. The bad guys are some of the most interesting villains I¿ve come across. And Swierczynski writes this improbable tale of conspiracy featuring a hero that should have died ten times over with such panache that the reader never starts questioning the tale until long after finishing the book. Hardie is the best hero since Lee Child¿s Jack Reacher, and has the added benefit of seeming a lot more human despite his unearthly resilience in the face of constant attack and injury. He¿s the kind of guy I want to meet ¿ and have watching my back if I¿m ever in trouble.
There is a very specific type of Hollywood actions - you have a hero (a police officer, a private cop, an ex police officer, an ex-navy, you name it - at least this is what he appears to be at the start - which ends up being part of the truth in most cases) who gets himself into a big mess within 5 minutes of the start of the film and then spends the next 80-90 minutes surviving all kind of against-all-odds situations while the bad guys try to use his always interesting past and family to get to him and a woman either betrays our guy or dies without him being able to save her or stay with him to the end. All this is accompanied with a lot of wrecked cars, explosions, enough firearms to win a war and at least a few mistakes from the bad guys. It does not matter why all that happens in some cases (even though the films in the last 10 years or so are trying for a plot....) - it is all about the speed, the almost miracles and about showing that one man can win against all odds. As formulaic as they are, they are enjoyable enough in some cases -- when I have 2 hours, nothing to do and just want to relax a bit, this type of a movie is my best companion. Fun and Games is a book version of these films. Charlie is an ex-cop (check), with a very complicated past (check) and a hidden family (check) who is not exactly what he appears to be (check), get stabbed pretty fast (check), meets two women (check), ends up trying to save one of them (check) and the bad guys spend the whole time trying to get him (check). Add to that the past of some of the other characters and a few actions that seemed like a staging up for the next book (because this is the start of a trilogy) and the things start to get pretty well covered. It is an enjoyable book - for someone that likes this type of thrillers and action films - so I had no issues with the book, even when the language was veering into the 18+ zone. However - the book is marketed as a vintage thriller... and that will probably cause some wrong expectations and disappointments. I will probably be reading the next 2 parts of the trilogy - I do not expect any surprises plot-wise or in what happens really but as already mentioned, I like this type of movies. And the book works at least as well. :)
I was really looking forward to this book, since it seemed to be a reinvention of the hardboiled style of writing that I love. Unfortunately. I was disappointed.This book reads like a movie script, for a film that is all action. The characters are flat, and I never developed any attachment to them. (Good thing, too, considering what happens to them.) I finally developed some sympathy for the main character, Charlie, but that was in the last five pages of the book. That was too little, too late. The plot is just one unbelievable attack after another. Charlie is nearly killed on every page, and it was too much to believe that he was still up and walking around - let alone fighting back - after everything he suffered.Reading this reminds me of sitting through a montage of every action scene from every action film produced in the last twenty years. And with a slightly depressing twist to it all.Sorry, but I won't be reading the rest of the trilogy. I just never developed any affinity for the characters; they were stock characters anyway. I'm not into blood and gore for the sake of blood and gore. But if that's your thing, then enjoy.
Fun and fast paced thriller. Will definitely follow this series from now on!
An exciting, action packed story of a large "Hero" type guy who was drinking his way through survivors guilt after not dying when his best friend and family was killed. Charlie Hardy had been isolating himself as a "House Sitter" on both coasts for almost three years. Once he determined his new residence was secure, he would spend his time with Whiskey and old rental movies. It wasn't a particularly rewarding life but, he didn't have to interact with any people. His agent in the east kept him in House Sitting assignments. His sterling reputation as a Sitter and ties to the Philadelphia Police Department provided sufficient credentials for him to remain fully booked. Then one of his sitting jobs puts him in the middle of an assassination of a bonafide Hollywood Starlet. He suffered her physical abuse, listened to her incredulous story and then tried to act in a rational fashion as he perceived it. He confronted and survived numerous deadly encounters while accumulating physical damage, he maintained his ability to confront the antagonists and protect the Starlet, eventually coming to believe her story and winning her trust. His actions give him another chance to be the hero and vindicate himself with the potential to overcome the psychological demons that have been haunting his life. He is faced with an unbelievable series of challenges and manages to just scrape through more through doggedness than particularly intelligent action. The range of activities that were applied to finish Lane Madden (the Starlet) and stop Charlie is exhausting and are only a lead in to the next family assassination attempt that Charlie is on track to prevent. Exciting action continues through the final page. Make sure you have snacks and refreshments close at hand before you start to read this. You won't want to have to tolerate interruptions!
Fun and Games features a former "police consultant" named Charlie Hardie who carries more than his fair share of baggage. This is the first book in a trilogy. The book starts with a bang and then keeps going. The story is fast paced but very predictable in many spots. While reminiscent of a hardboiled, noir style the author still needs to develop his voice in this genre. I agree with several of the other reviewers that the characters could use more development. What I liked was the the interlude and the merging of what appears to be two distinct story lines. Charlie Hardie has lots of potential as a down on his luck hero although his superman type antics push the character over the edge at times (what does it take to really injure him?). The ending was very predictable but I look forward to reading the next installment of this series. I gave it four stars for the fast paced, action packed writing style. As mentioned before, the characters have lots of potential and I hope the author develops them in greater detail in the next book. If you are looking for a fun, fast paced read this summer, check this book out.
What a trip, just read this and enjoy.
Im here now because i dont drink human blood is it okay if i use you as a sex slave or you can be my gf from count jhon
She walkes in
Part one is on the fault in our stars. The mirorr shows your body. What style is your hair? A. Long (search yup res one) B. Short (search confused res one)
Hay fellow classmates this is my favorite book and it is my mom favorite book even my brother as a nook and he really like this book.
If you want s.ex of any kind even bi les or g.ay s.ex then come to utah res. 1. Be there!!
We miss u!