There's a Hollywood one never gets to see on Oscar night, the Hollywood of wannabes, has-beens, and never-weres. It's this hidden Hollywood that Benjamin Justice finds when he accompanies Alexandra Templeton--the go-getting young journalist he met in Wilson's previous novel, Simple Justice--to an open house at the home of the well-known teacher of screenwriting Gordon Cantwell. Templeton is on assignment, but the body she finds in Cantwell's garden isn't part of her story, and Justice suspects that the death isn't natural, either.
The dead man is Raymond Farr, born Reza JaFari, and as it turns out, almost anyone at the party might have wanted him dead. The quintessential Hollywood deal maker, Farr's credentials were as phony as his name, and his scruples were as nonexistent as his credits. Justice--ever the investigative journalist, however reluctant--begins to nose around, and unearths a tangled web of relationships that lead him, finally, to the killer. Along the way he also reawakens a part of himself, the part he had kept buried, or preserved in alcohol, ever since the death of his lover from AIDS seven years before.
In Revision of Justice, John Morgan Wilson expands his world beyond the borders of West Hollywood to explore the tarnished detritus of Tinseltown, and his hero, Benjamin Justice, expands his world as well, as he begins to open up to the feelings he had been trying so hard to deny.
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"He seems to know everyone," Templeton said.
We watched Gordon Cantwell work his way through the room, juggling his outfielder's mitt and grocery sack to shake hands along the way, tossing nods and smiles to grateful greeters the way a wealthy matron dispenses token gifts to the poor.
"King of his castle," Kapono said, making it sound pleasant enough.
Cantwell was a fiftyish man of average height, with a soft middle and skinny legs but solid in the shoulders. His mustache and beard were badly trimmed and looked dyed to match the reddish-brown toupee crowning his sunburned head, as if he'd done both jobs himself at the bathroom mirror. Despite his age, he wore his orange-trimmed baseball outfit with unabashed pride, brimming over with the effusion of someone whose team has just won a close one.
I was filling my cup with wine as he approached, beckoned by Kapono's upraised hand.
"Let me guess," he said as he joined us. "Alexandra Templeton, ace reporter."
His appraising eyes were all over her in an instant, and he was clearly pleased with what he saw.
"Mr. Cantwell," Templeton said.
His busy eyes finally settled on her face.
"Never did I expect anyone quite so lovely. Someone should put you in the movies, Miss Templeton."
He sounded like a second-rate actor auditioning with a third-rate script, yet blissfully unaware of it. Petrocelli piped in to save Cantwell further self-embarrassment.
"Are you going to tell use the score, Gordon--or shall we assume that your team took a drubbing?"
"On the contrary, Leo. As you've probably heard, I played on Tom Hanks's squad. I'm pleased to say we pulled out a victory--two runs, bottom of the ninth, to break a tie, thanks to a Jimmy Smits double."
Then, to the rest of us: "Not to sound immodest, but I personally put my glove on fly balls hit by Kevin Costner, Billy Crystal, and Wesley Snipes."
Cantwell had managed to drop five well-known Hollywood names in less than half a minute. He was nothing if not well rehearsed.
"The question is," Templeton said, "Were you able to hang on to any of them?"
Laughter rippled through the group.
"She's quick," Cantwell said to the rest of us. He winked in Templeton's direction. "I like that."
Then, leaning toward her ear: "I can assure you, when something comes my way that's worthwhile, I grab it and hang on."
This time, Kapono stepped in to save him.
"Gordon, this is Alexandra's friend, Benjamin Justice."
Cantwell asked immediately if I was in "the business," and when I replied in the negative, lost interest in me just as quickly.
"I'd love to chat longer," he said to the group, "but I promised Alexandra an interview." He turned back to her. "There's a terraced garden down the hill with a spectacular view of the Hollywood Sign and the city lights. We can talk there, if that's all right."
Templeton showed him her notebook and tape recorder.
"Whenever you're ready, Gordon."
Cantwell hoisted the grocery sack.
"I'll just leave this in the kitchen, then I'm all yours. Chris, you'll see that our guests have whatever they need?"
"I'll take care of them, Gordon."
We watched him cross the room, shaking hands along the way.
"He's quite sociable," Templeton said.
"Especially with attractive women," Kapono replied. "Be sure to holler if you need help."
She was smiling again, but exchanged a silent look with Templeton, the kind between women that speaks volumes.
A minute and some small talk later, Cantwell appeared in the dining room, clutching his baseball glove under one arm, as if hanging on to the memory of the evening's victory. He caught Templeton's attention with an upraised hand, and gestured toward the yard, where the outdoor lights had come on.
"I think that's my cue," Templeton said.
She handed business cards to Brickman and Petrocelli, said her good-byes, and made her way through the throng. Cantwell slipped an arm through one of hers and guided her out the dining room doors.
They traversed the patio to the yard's southern boundary, where they descended a lighted trail of steps that led them quickly out of sight.
"I promised you a glass of burgundy," Kapono said to Petrocelli.
"No rush, dear. Two glasses is my limit these days."
Brickman stepped to Kapono's side.
"I'll go with you, Christine. I could use something for this headache."
"And I'm off to the rest room," I said.
We left Petrocelli alone, looking like a pillar of dignity and decorum amid the hubbub and unease of the younger crowd.
I took the stairs this time, climbing past yet more film posters--Casablanca, Singing in the Rain, The Third Man, The Philadelphia Story. The last poster along the staircase, a step from the top, was from The Blue Angel, featuring a leggy blonde born Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch, but know more famously as Marlene Dietrich.
On the same step, coming down, was another slender young blonde, of the male variety.
I recognized him as the man I'd seen a few minutes earlier, pursuing Dylan Winchester across the yard.
He was one of those smooth, pretty types with good genes and fine hair, who might be twenty or thirty-two or anywhere in between, depending on the quality of the light. The sleeves of his silk T-shirt, pale blue to match his eyes, were rolled up sissy style, revealing long, boyish biceps. The thumbs of his fine-boned hands were hooked into the side pockets of his white summer shorts, which showed off a pair of legs that were surprisingly muscular and hairy, out of synch with the rest of him.
He looked me over as he came down, searching my face with something other than professional interest, yet protected by a coolness that bordered on disdain. Yearning to be admired yet unapproachable. I pegged him immediately as an actor.
As I reached the top of the stairs, two more framed posters faced me from either side of the bathroom door, one from Rocky, the other from Frankenstein, which made me wonder if the juxtaposition was a comment on bodybuilding and plastic surgery. Down the hall in either direction were more--The African Queen, King Kong, Bonnie and Clyde, Lawrence of Arabia, The Searchers, It Happened One Night. Cantwell's house was beginning to feel more like a museum of movie memories than a home.
I glanced over my shoulder and into the blue eyes of the young man on the stairs. He stood midway down in his sandaled feet, peering up with an insolent look that told me he found me attractive, but not so much that I should expect him to make the first move. I laughed to myself, enough to let him see it, then turned away and moved on.
I drank the remainder of the wine slowly but straight from the bottle, sitting on the toilet seat with the door locked, savoring the isolation. Behind me was a poster for The Grapes of Wrath, across from me another for Witness. Rather serious subject matter, I thought, for decorating the john.
Gradually, as the bottle emptied, it dawned on me that I was surrounded by freshly minted screenplays.
Stacks of them sat atop the toilet tank and the laundry hamper, on a small side table, the edge of the tub, even the floor, where one or two of the piles had spilled, scattering scripts across the clean tile. They were all encased in variously colored vinyl covers and bound by golden brads that glittered with optimism. Business cards bearing the names of the writers were paper-clipped to some or tucked inside. On-others, Post-It Notes informed the reader that the attached script was for sale or option or in need of an agent; several of the notes signified genre--romantic comedy, suspense thriller, action-adventure, mystery, horror, sci-fi. There were also a few rÚsumÚs, all rather skimpy, emphasizing cinema school degrees and awards I'd never heard of, with the credits limited mostly to student films.
Atop one stack was a hand-printed sign: Just read the first five pages--no longer than it takes you to take care of business and flush--and I guarantee you'll be hooked.
The shortest script I flipped through was ninety-six pages; the longest, 124. Each began with the words FADE IN: and ended with FADE OUT, FADE TO BLACK, or THE CREDITS ROLL:. In between were fifty or sixty scenes, designated interior or exterior--INT. or EXT.--filled primarily with action and dialogue, and minimal description.
I drained the bottle and thought about all the work that must have gone into so many scripts that would probably never be sold, let alone produced. It depressed me, for all kinds of reasons, so I switched my thoughts to the young man on the stairs.
I had no doubt he was attracted to me, although I wasn't sure why. Maybe he had a thing for hairy-chested men who were pushing forty with thinning hair and paunchy waistlines. Maybe he was drawn to me because I didn't go gaga over him on first sight, and he liked a challenge. Maybe he mistook me for a producer with a studio development deal.
It didn't really matter. I'd seen the look; I knew the look. The question was whether I wanted him.
I peed, zipped up, and flushed, then opened the door expecting to see him at the bottom of the stairs, leaning casually against the railing with his eyes carefully averted, as if he'd forgotten me entirely.
He was considerably closer, standing just outside the door pretending to study the Frankenstein one-sheet.
I passed him without a word.
"I've seen you around West Hollywood."
His voice was baritone deep, on the cultured side.
I stopped and turned, already resenting the power of his youth and beauty, the way it had seized a weak part of me.
He nodded, then turned away as if it didn't matter in the slightest, as if the conversation was over. The dance of narcissism was underway; the next step was mine.
"You have a name?"
He tossed it at me like a scrap.
"Live in the neighborhood?"
"Hilldale, just off Dicks."
"Dicks Street--where the sign's always being stolen."
"That's the one."
"I'm on Norma Place--just around the corner. I guess that makes us neighbors."
"I know your face." He said it flatly, distantly, reminding me that he didn't really care. "I've seen it before."
"I believe you already said that."
I matched his offhand tone, which forced him to play it a little cooler.
"Don't let me keep you, if you have better things to do."
"Thanks, I do."
I turned back to the stairs.
"What's your name?"
His soft, pink mouth curled at the corners.
"That's it. That's where I know you from. The Pulitzer business."
"I didn't know actors paid attention to such things."
"How do you know I'm an actor?"
"At the moment, I'm in a one-act at the West Hollywood Playhouse."
"Which means you probably make a living waiting tables."
It stung; his nostrils flared.
"I park cars, actually. Parties, mostly. It allows me to audition during the day--take time off if I get a role."
"You sound very committed, Teal."
I started down.
"Maybe we could have a drink." He said it quickly, giving more away, I suspected, than he wanted to. "Talk a little. See what develops."
I looked him over the way a picky shopper sizes up the hothouse tomatoes.
"I've had more to drink than I need. And we have talked a little."
Half a dozen steps separated us when he spoke again.
"Fuck you, Justice."
When I looked back up at him, his hands were thrust into his pockets again and his eyes fixed on mine with a look that was part glare, part seduction.
I stepped back up the landing, grabbed him roughly by one arm, and hustled him toward a closed door at the end of the hallway. With any luck, it would be unlocked, with a big bed behind it.
I shoved him against the door, grabbed his hair, and pressed my mouth against his, hard enough to bruise his insolent lips. My other hand went directly to the front of his pants, where I found a lump that was alive and moving.
I turned to see Templeton standing at the top of the stairway. She moved down the hallway toward us.
"I hate to interrupt a tender courtship," she said. "But we've discovered Raymond Farr, down on the terrace."
"It's about time someone found him."
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ben Justice is back, investigating another Hollywood mystery. A beautifully flawed character, he continues to struggle with alcoholism and guilt, while trying to figure out who killed a young script writer found dead at a large Hollywood party. Wilson is adept at weaving in copious detail, sense of place, and great development of even minor characters. Love the film history , L.A. history, and I appreciated the history of the progression of AIDS treatment. Many passages made me feel like I was in the room. Highly recommended.