Ronnie Deal's no hero. She's just a drop-dead gorgeous Hollywood movie executive having a really bad day who's in no mood to watch when homicidal thug Neon Polk puts a beat down on poor little Antsy Carruth at the Tiki Shack bar. Ronnie puts Polk's lights out with a beer bottle, Antsy takes a powder, and Ronnie tries to forget the whole thing.
“The best rip-off of an Elmore Leonard novel since Elmore Leonard,” Publisher’s Weekly – Starred Review
But not Neon. Antsy stole twenty-five grand from Neon's drug-dealing boss and Ronnie's just cost him a big recovery fee, not to mention cut his pride to the quick. Neon not only gets revenge in spades, he wants Ronnie to pay him fifty grand as icing on the cake.
What Neon doesn't know is that people in The Business don't call Ronnie "Raw Deal" for nothing. Ronnie's got a completely different kind of payoff in mind for Neon now, and with the help of ex-con and aspiring screenwriter Ellis Langford—who's got big troubles of his own in the form of two psychos named Jorge and Jaime Ayala—she's about to learn how to make a real killing in Tinseltown.
It all makes for one of the wildest, funniest, and chillingly authentic Hollywood crime stories ever told.
“A tale bearing traces of Elmore Leonard and Preston Sturges [that] suggests that LA street violence and Burbank studio infighting are the same bloodthirsty sport…a lean, funny thriller,” Kirkus Reviews – Starred Review
"Fast-paced as it is frothing with satirical commentary about the shark-infested suites of Tinseltown…vital and entertainingly vicious,” J. Kingston Pierce, The Rap Sheet
|Publisher:||Brash Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
About the Author
Gar Anthony Harwood is the author of Man Eater and Firecracker, two brutally funny thrillers set in Hollywood. Man Eater earned Haywood starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and well-deserved comparisons to Elmore Leonard for his fast-paced thrills and dark humor. He followed that stunning success with Firecracker, an explosive story of sports, sex, and outrageous schemes that also received rave reviews.
Haywood is also the author six mysteries featuring African-American private investigator Aaron Gunner. The first novel in that series, Fear of The Dark, won the Shamus award for Best First Novel of 1989, and his Gunner short story "And Pray Nobody Sees You" won both the Shamus and Anthony awards for Best Short Story of 1995. His latest Gunner short story, "The Lamb Was Sure to Go," snagged him his third Shamus award in 2011. His other novels include two books featuring Joe & Dottie Loudermilk, retiree crime-solvers traveling in their Airstream camper.
In addition to his novels and short stories, Haywood has written episodes of several TV crime shows, including New York Undercover and The District, and is a former president of the Mystery Writers of America's Southern California chapter.
Read an Excerpt
By Gar Anthony Haywood
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Dallas Murphy
All rights reserved.
It was a typical Hollywood story: At 10:22 Wednesday morning, Ronnie Deal had Brad Pitt; at 4:51 that same afternoon, she didn't.
These things happened to movie producers, of course. Star players drifted in and out of film projects like children on a sugar high running from room to room. No one understood this better than Ronnie. But sometimes the sudden downturn in a producer's fortunes had nothing to do with the cruel hand of fate and everything to do with simple subterfuge. Sometimes the key talent attached to a project went away not on a whim, but because somebody somewhere pushed a button. That was what had happened to Ronnie today. She was certain of it. Brad Pitt's bailout from Trouble Town had Andy Gleason's handwriting all over it.
From her lonely little corner table in the back shadows of the Tiki Shack bar, Ronnie allowed the realization to bring her to a slow boil.
There were all kinds of rivals in the film business — crosstown competitors, cutthroat wannabes, paranoid old-timers — but the so-called "teammate" who worked in the next office over was by far the worst kind of all. Ronnie and Andy Gleason were junior development execs at the same production company, Velocity Pictures, and the two twentysomethings had been knocking heads ever since Ronnie came aboard two and a half years ago.
Their problems started with Andy's thinly veiled hatred of all things female, and blossomed from there, culminating in his wholly undisguised ambition to become the company's V.P. a position he rightly feared Ronnie had earmarked for herself.
The good news was that Ronnie knew how to handle the Andy Gleasons of the world. It was something she'd been forced to learn in her early teens just to stay afloat, long before the thought of selling her soul to Hollywood had ever entered her mind. Because Ronnie was smart, single, and beautiful — "heartbreak in a tall, dark hourglass," somebody had once called her — and this was a combination that drew some people's ire like a big, wet spit in the eye. All they had to do was watch Ronnie enter a room — olive-skinned, green-eyed, with straight auburn hair and a covergirl body — to instantly despise her. Discovering later that she actually had a brain only intensified their disdain. So, by default, Ronnie had developed ways to defend herself, all of which could be summarized thusly: Cut first, and to the bone. Hence, the nickname some in the Business had given her to demonize her, a black heart being a more palatable explanation for her every achievement than mere competence: "Raw" Deal.
Ronnie actually laughed the first time she heard it, and she'd been laughing off and on ever since. These people didn't know how "raw" she could be. They only knew what they'd seen of her in the three short years she'd been in L.A.; had they any knowledge of her life prior to Hollywood, when the damage she liked to do to herself and others had been far more tangible than anything one could suffer in business, they would all recoil in horror as one. But these Beautiful People had no such knowledge, and never would, and so went blissfully on believing that the extent of Ronnie Deal's ruthlessness could be found in the fine print of a cutthroat deal memo.
"Raw" Deal, indeed.
The moniker made her sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for Chrissakes. Men looted and pillaged their way to the top in Hollywood, and got Oscars; Ronnie tried the same thing, and people treated her like a serial killer. The inequity was almost enough to make a woman give up her six-figure salary and do something genuinely meaningful with her life.
No, Ronnie was stuck with Andy Gleason, just as she'd been stuck with all the other misogynistic assholes she'd been forced to deal with before him, and she was going to have to devise a way to dispose of him that wouldn't leave blood all over the floor. For few things were admired more in Hollywood than the clean kill. Messy ones were a necessary evil in the Business, but they weren't good for your resume; better that you were known for having once cut an adversary's heart out with a scalpel than disemboweled him with a pickax. One approach took real skill, the other only enmity, and the latter was about as rare a commodity in La-La Land as a half-empty bottle of Perrier.
Before she could get down to the business of ruining Andy, however, Ronnie had to determine exactly how he had managed to strike this latest death blow to Trouble Town. Andy had no direct connection to Brad Pitt's people that she was aware of, so he had to have sabotaged the actor's participation in the film via a back door of some kind. But what could a junior production exec do or say to make an A-list actor's agent back her client out of a project only six hours after verbally committing him to it?
Usually, Ronnie knew, a little dirt on another major player attached to the project would do the trick — "Not sure if you heard this, but we thought you might like to know: Joe (the director/co-star/writer) Blow's rehab just took a major turn for the worse ..." — but in this case, there was no such dirt to dish. Both the writer and director attached to Trouble Town were rock-solid citizens; neither had a history of chemical dependency, and each was coming off a big box-office hit. And Pitt had allegedly read the Trouble Town script weeks ago and loved it; his people would never have committed him to the film otherwise. If neither the associated talent nor the script had scared him off. Maybe he hadn't been scared off at all. Maybe he'd just opted out because something better had come along.
"Shit," Ronnie said. That was it.
Every major star of Pitt's caliber had at least one pet project on the back burner that he or she was dying to get green-lit, and Pitt was no exception. Thinking back on it now, Ronnie recalled that, less than a year earlier, the trades had been following the trials and tribulations of a film Pitt was desperate to star in, a sweeping historical romance that would be based on a best-selling novel he'd fallen in love with and optioned with his own money. Ordinarily, a major star and a best-selling novel were combination enough to earn a film deal somewhere, but not in this case; because of the unusual setting of the story (Istanbul at the turn of the nineteenth century), there were only three A-list directors the studios felt comfortable putting at the helm of the project, and all were going to be contractually unavailable for months. So, forced to shelve the fi lm indefi nitely until one of the three golden boys became free, Pitt had moved on to other projects, one of which ultimately became Ronnie's beloved Trouble Town.
Ronnie ran the names of the three key directors the studios wanted for Pitt's movie off in her head: Spencer Landis, Walter Wolfe ... and Adrian Cummings. The three-time Oscar nominee who was presently attached to another Velocity Pictures project, The Whites of Their Eyes.
Andy Gleason's The Whites of Their Eyes.
Ronnie knocked back the last of a bottled beer, watching the Tiki Shack's bartender work the cash register without really seeing him, and made a silent wager with herself that, by some incredible coincidence, Adrian Cummings wasn't attached to Andy's picture anymore.
And there you had it. The sudden demise of Trouble Town.
It was going to be Ronnie's breakout film, the box-office smash that would elevate her from the ranks of the promising-but-unproven to the must-do-business-with. The script was an action-adventure cop drama (with the requisite "twist," of course) that had summer blockbuster written all over it, and with Brad Pitt attached to star, its crossover appeal to both men and women promised to be unlimited. It had taken Ronnie almost a year to put the whole package together; she had worked countless fourteen-hour days and made dozens of new enemies guiding all the pieces into place. And now that she was finally going to see it all pay off ...
The film was in jeopardy, but it wasn't dead. No project of Ronnie's ever was.
She lived by a personal motto — "Never let bad news surprise you" — and what it signified was that she was always prepared for the worst. She didn't always have a ready answer for it, perhaps, but the framework of a back-up plan was at least in place, so that disaster recovery was never a completely improvisational proposition. Brad Pitt was gone, and she hadn't seen that coming, but maybe things were still okay, because Ronnie already had a potential replacement for Pitt — give or take some hurried negotiations — waiting in the wings.
And if little Andy Asshole tried to undermine that arrangement.
"Okay, okay, enough already."
Ronnie looked up, saw that the bartender was now standing directly in front of her, an expression of mild agitation fixed upon his face.
"Excuse me?" Ronnie asked.
"The bottle. You don't have to bang it on the table like that to get my attention. A simple wave would be sufficient."
Ronnie glanced at her empty beer bottle, realized that she had indeed been unconsciously using it to rap on the table like a war drum. Imagining, no doubt, that the table was Andy Gleason's soft head.
"Jesus, I'm sorry," Ronnie said, blushing. "I wasn't even aware I was doing it."
"Bad day at the office, huh?"
"You could say that, yeah."
That was as far as she wanted the conversation to go, in no mood to deflect the advances of a man who probably got a headache just reading the spine on a book, and whose teeth seemed to carry remnants of a meal he once ate in high school, but the bartender smiled now, said, "I've seen you in here before, haven't I?" What could she do? Ignore the question?
"I drop in every now and then."
"I thought so. You an actress?"
"An actress? No. Listen, as long as you're here ..." Ronnie gestured with the bottle, gave him a small smile of her own to take the sting off the rebuff. "You wouldn't mind bringing me another, would you?"
Recognizing the brush-off when he was getting it, the guy jettisoned all the charm, freshly annoyed with her, and shrugged. "No problem."
He beat a hasty retreat. Ronnie watched him go, trying to generate some sense of guilt for having been so abrupt with someone who had meant her no harm, but the memory of Andy Gleason wouldn't allow it. She was pissed, and she wanted to stay pissed.
She spent almost every waking hour holding the old Ronnie in check, pushing the temptations and impulses which had once come so close to destroying her down beneath the level of her consciousness, where they couldn't get in the way of the things she needed to get done. But sometimes, letting her emotions go unfettered by restraint was just goddamn necessary. It felt good, and she was entitled to the release. Hence these occasional treks to the remote outpost that was the Tiki Shack bar on Sunset and Hillhurst, inconvenient to all major studios and production company headquarters, where she could drink beer out of a bottle instead of Myers from a glass, or glare daggers at a blank wall while cursing agents under her breath, and all without worrying about being seen by somebody else in the industry who would waste no time ensuring that every detail of her distress was duly noted in tomorrow's edition of Daily Variety.
She could start treating men fairly again in the morning. Right now, all she wanted was another beer and a little room to let her hatred of Andy Gleason run its course.
She didn't think that was too much to ask.
* * *
Antsy Carruth, meanwhile, was sitting several feet away from Ronnie at the Tiki Shack's bar, trying to make one strong and super-sweet Mai Tai last for the better part of an hour.
Antsy's given name was Denise, but she'd been known as Antsy ever since a dyke sheriff 's deputy at the county jail four years ago had seen her fidgeting in the mess-hall line like she needed to pee and said, "Hey, you! Antsy! You need to go to the john or somethin'?" Antsy didn't like the name at first, thinking it made her sound mousy (and nervous, which she usually was), but then she saw how quickly people took to it, and realized it gave her the closest thing to an actual identity she'd ever had, so she gave in and adopted the name as her own. It was either that or "Dee," which she genuinely despised.
Antsy was at the Tiki Shack waiting for a guy who was going to sell her a fake passport. She didn't like being out of her motel room, but this was where the guy wanted to do business, and she had to play ball by his rules.
The reason Antsy needed a fake passport was not easily explained, but the short of it was, she was in a shitload of trouble, and she needed to get as far away from Los Angeles as she could. Three weeks earlier, the twenty-two-year-old career streetwalker had ripped off an ex-boyfriend named Sydney Phelps, who had himself just ripped off a drug dealer named Bobby Funderburk, and now Antsy was being desperately sought by both. Assuming, of course, that Sydney wasn't already dead. God, she hoped he was.
Had he not put his hands on her the last night they'd been together, for what had to have been the ten-thousandth goddamn time, Antsy might never have raised the courage to relieve Sydney of the money he'd so unwisely stolen from Funderburk. But he had, proving himself yet again to be a lying, brutal, and incredibly shortsighted asshole, so Antsy had punished him the only way she knew how: by returning him to the ranks of the dead-broke, his least favorite state of being. She'd waited until Sydney had crashed at the nadir of his latest drunk, then snuck away from his Echo Park crib with a briefcase full of Funderburk's money in tow. She did it for vengeance, not greed. The distinction would mean nothing to Sydney or Funderburk, but it was an important one to Antsy.
Because Antsy was not a thief. A thief would have counted the money in the briefcase by now, but Antsy had yet to do so. That's how indifferent she was to the rewards of her action. All Antsy was was a whore with more self-respect than some. Self-respect, and smarts. The smarts were amply illustrated by her inspired idea to stay in L.A. until she could acquire a passport. A less intelligent lady, Antsy knew, would have just hopped on a Greyhound bus two days after leaving Sydney's apartment and tried to lose herself somewhere in Texas or Georgia, or, if she were really desperate, maybe North or South Dakota. But not Antsy. Where Antsy was going to hide, nobody was going to find her. Antsy was going to make her flight to freedom an international one, landing either in Italy or France, she hadn't decided which just yet, forcing Sydney and/or Bobby Funderburk to cross a fucking ocean to catch up with her. If either of them wanted to go to that kind of trouble for what she estimated at a glance was just a few thousand dollars, Antsy had decided, more power to 'em, what the hell.
She took another sip of her Mai Tai and lit a cigarette, checking the door as she did so. The passport guy was supposed to be reliable, but he was already fifteen minutes late. A girlfriend of Antsy's named Lulu Greene had turned Antsy on to him, told her over the phone yesterday that he was a short Mexican with a perpetual five-o'clock shadow who was the best discount document man on the west coast. And Antsy had to believe it, because Lulu had never lied to her about anything before, which was why Antsy had trusted her enough to call her in the first place. No one else Antsy knew had a clue where she was, and no one ever would again. Except for this short Mexican forger Lulu had arranged for her to meet here at the Tiki Shack, whose tardiness was now driving poor Antsy to distraction.
She sucked on her cigarette mightily, blew a long stream of smoke into the air over her right shoulder, and decided to give the guy another five minutes before writing him off as a no-show.
* * *
Three minutes later, Neon Polk walked through the Tiki Shack's door looking for a skinny little white girl named Antsy Carruth.
The Mexican document-forger she was waiting for would not be coming. He had given Neon a call that afternoon, having heard through the grapevine that the black man was offering two bills for any information on a woman fitting Antsy's description who might be looking to make fast tracks out of L.A., and he was now waiting by the phone somewhere to hear if he had tipped Neon off to the right lady.
Excerpted from Man Eater by Gar Anthony Haywood. Copyright © 2014 Dallas Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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