Murtz's walls are lined with platinum records, but his closet is full of skeletons.
Known for producing an unbelievable string of hits, Murtz is also tied to a string of disappearances. Seems a number of Murtz's romantic conquests have vanished into thin air. After his latest incident, Murtz conveniently retreats to his secluded St. Bart villa.
Before Mick can hop a plane to the island, he's nearly run down by a speeding car. Coincidence? Maybe, but hitmaker Danny Murtz and near misses go hand in hand.
After receiving anonymous threats, Murtz is convinced: someone wants to bring him down. Even his longtime secretary Nancy, and attorney/manager/cleaner-upper Harvey Schwartz are suspect. And that meddlesome Mick Sever is digging too deep.
If Danny Murtz has his way, Mick will only need a one-way ticket to paradise. Because if Mick isn't careful, his next column will be an obituary - his obituary.
Sun, sand and a psychopath: it's a deadly mix.
About the Author
An award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive, Don Bruns is author of Stuff to Die For, Jamaica Blue, Barbados Heat, and South Beach Shakedown. South Beach Shakedown won top honors in both the "Best Books 2006" and the 2007 Indie Excellence Awards, and was a finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards and the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards.
Read an Excerpt
St. Barts Breakdown
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2008 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
"Not again." Danny Murtz closed his eyes, as if the act would magically erase the vision of what he saw sprawled on the floor. Through tightly closed eyelids he still saw the figure. Opening his eyes he gazed upward to the top of the curved staircase then down to the marble-floored entranceway under the magnificent cut-glass chandelier. Her body lay crumpled, limbs askew. Blood flowed freely from the massive head wound, and her right arm looked to be separated from the rest of her body. Only the curve of her naked buttocks and the small of her back seemed untouched by the fall. Her blond hair fanned out, soaking up the blood and her eyes were open, wide open, with fear frozen in the dilated pupils.
Half an hour ago she'd been in the throes of passion, her legs locked around his waist, screaming at the top of her lungs. Now — he couldn't remember. Like the last time, it was a blur.
He shook, as if the temperature were thirteen degrees and he'd worn only a T-shirt. His dry mouth wanted for a drink, but drink had been partially responsible for the naked corpse. Drink and cocaine. And the handful of pills, and possibly a couple of joints he'd smoked an hour ago. He'd gotten a little out of balance.
He had to call Harvey. Who else could he talk to? Focus. Focus. Wait a minute, a lucid thought. Harvey had said the next time he was on his own. As if Harvey knew there would be a next time. But, of course, he did. The smug attorney knew everything. And that was the problem. Harvey knew too much.
Murtz took his cell phone from the pocket of his thick, terrycloth robe and punched in Harvey's number on speed dial. For the money Murtz paid him, the son of a bitch had better not give him attitude.
"Harvey Schwartz." The voice was cold and distant.
"Harvey? It's Danny." He tried not to slur the words.
"Yeah, Danny. What is it?"
Murtz paid him close to a million a year. The man could sound a little more interested in talking to his number one client. Murtz's secretary said he was only looking out for himself. She didn't trust the son of a bitch, but he had no one else to turn to.
"Harvey," he started shaking again. He needed a drink.
"What is it Danny?"
Murtz walked to the bar and with unsteady hands poured himself a tumbler of Grey Goose vodka.
"Danny? I'm waiting."
Murtz took a long swallow. "You remember four years ago ... well, of course you do. I —"
"Jesus Christ, Danny," he interrupted. "Tell me it didn't happen again."
"I can't tell you that, Harvey."
Silence, then a long sigh of exasperation. "How many times, Danny? How many times have I cleaned it up?"
He had to show a little backbone here. Can't have Harvey treating him like a spoiled child. "You're going to clean up the mess, Harvey. You work for me, you arrogant prick. I don't care what it costs. Clean it up whatever it takes."
"Who is she?"
"It's not important."
"You don't know, do you?"
"Some wannabe actress. Singer. I didn't ask for a résumé. Just take care of it." He took another gulp of the clear beverage and stared at the shaking tumbler in his hand. Harvey was quiet. Murtz could hear him breathing on the other end. Slow, measured breaths.
"Half a million, Danny. At least that much, maybe more."
"Then call the cops. Or do you want me to?"
"Fuck you. You turn on me and the money stops." He could hear the attorney on the other end, breathing slowly, perfectly calm. "You son of a bitch." Nancy, his secretary, was right. He shouldn't trust the guy. "Fix it."
"Half a million."
Murtz drained the glass. "Put it on my tab."
"Don't touch anything, don't move anything, just go to your room, lock the door, and I'll have someone there in ten minutes. And, Danny, lock the front door too. My man will have the key."
He nodded. It was going to be all right. A disappearance, a couple of articles in the second section of some big city newspapers and it would all go away. It always did.
"Are you listening?"
Of course he was listening. "Yeah."
"Pack a bag. We'll have a plane ready in a couple of hours."
He should be relieved. But he wasn't. Harvey knew too much. Threatening him about going to the cops. Murtz's mind tried to wrap itself around the situation, but there was just too much fog. His father had moved the family in the middle of the night, one night when he'd come home drunk. Murtz had been about eight. There was talk that the old man had killed someone in a drunken stupor. The apple didn't fall too far —
"Danny?" Harvey sounded more engaged, like the wheels were turning. "Is her car there?"
"Yeah. Little Toyota something."
"Okay. We'll move that. Far, far away."
"Yeah. The car. And she has a cell phone. She was making a call."
"When? When was she making the call, Danny?"
"Maybe just before. I can't remember."
"Before she went over the railing."
"Jesus, Harvey, are you paying attention?"
Silence on the other end of the phone. Finally, "Who was she calling on the cell phone?"
"I don't know." His head ached, and he was slurring his words.
God, it was a miserable drunk.
"Shit. Think. Did she mention any name?"
He couldn't think. It was Harvey's job to think. That's why he demanded so damned much money.
"The cell phone is there, right?"
In her bag, on the bed, somewhere. "Yeah." He was so tired, just needed another stiff drink and then a good night's sleep.
"All right. We're going to need that phone. We need to know who she called. Do you understand that? Don't touch anything."
"Like I would."
"Half a million, Danny. Minimum."
"Goddamnit, Harvey, I heard you."
"Danny, was it an accident?"
"She went over the banister."
"Was it an accident?"
"She was coming from the bathroom. We'd just, you know, done it, and maybe she was disoriented."
"Was it an accident? Try to remember." That steady, measured tone that he used — talking to him as if he were a child.
Murtz stared at the empty glass. Then he stared at the naked body on his shiny marble floor. He dropped the glass, the shattering lead crystal echoing in the large entranceway.
"What was that?" Harvey was now fully engaged. "Danny?" Murtz remained silent.
"I'm going to ask you one more time."Very deliberate words. "Was this an accident?"
"I think I might have pushed her, Harvey. So no, it may not have been an accident. You know, I really don't remember. She's dead. So do your job. Fix it. Do you hear me you arrogant ass? Fix it!"CHAPTER 2
"Orchestral Rock, Mick. That big, full sound." Jeff Bloomfield held his hands up, spreading them to emphasize the image. "Surely you remember?" He grinned at Sever, obviously excited about his subject.
Sever remembered. Danny Murtz had been the producer who had invented the heavy orchestral sound for popular music acts in the sixties and seventies. Dubbed Orchestral Rock, Murtz had hit it big with the sound of Jeremy and Storm, two white guys who sounded like the Isley Brothers. But their orchestration was magnified about 500 percent, and you were sucked into the depth of the music from the very first note.
"This was before multitracking was so easy," Bloomfield continued. "As you know, today they can play on three hundred tracks if they want to. When Murtz came on the scene, it was very limited, maybe four tracks, so he'd have, like, seven guitars play the same notes at the same time. Maybe five horns, five bass drums, playing the same exact line."
Sever nodded. And Danny Murtz would build an echo chamber that would resonate with every beat. Strings would swell, and the bass would boom, and the percussion would overwhelm the production. He'd heard that Murtz had used ten French horns on the song he'd written, Living Without You, and the entire session had been recorded at the bottom of an elevator shaft, just to get the proper echo effect. Even with all the computer effects available today, no one had ever duplicated Danny Murtz's Orchestral Rock.
"A&E is filming a special on Murtz this month, and we'd like you to do a story on him for the Tribune." Jeff Bloomfield had been giving him assignments for twenty years.
Sever had been writing entertainment articles for the Chicago Tribune for longer than he cared to admit. He'd started as a stringer in high school, covering Chicago-area rock and roll concerts, and even though he'd moved on, working as a freelancer for Rolling Stone, Spin, and a number of other high-profile publications, he still appreciated assignments from Bloomfield. Whenever his career had stalled, Jeff had always been there, offering him interviews, insight articles, and personality profiles. In his career, Sever had written four books, produced two movie documentaries, and had himself been the subject of numerous media profiles. The books were inside looks at the entertainment industry, and the movies were intriguing insights into the musical British Invasion, and the history of Barry Gordy's Motown. The profiles on Sever's life made him a legend in journalistic circles.
And now, Bloomfield was offering him a chance to interview another legend. Danny Murtz. And even though Murtz had a reputation as a rather nasty character, Sever couldn't help but be intrigued.
Murtz had written and produced Living Without You, a classic beyond almost any other classic in the rock and roll genre. Sever and anyone else who grew up in the sixties could immediately identify the first two measures of the song, the rich, full sound, the chord structure, and the magnificent vocals from Jeremy and Storm that hammered the message home.
I've got a sad, sad tale, and only one of us can feel the pain.
Of love and all it takes, of parting and the
heartache's sad refrain There's just one little
thing, I'd like you to think of
The passion that we shared for all those Times
that we spent making love.
It was a perfect song for teenage angst. And as a teenager, Sever had bought the message. He remembered the girl's name, Jane. Jane Powers and she'd dumped him, telling him at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen that he was too immature. Well, duh.
I've got a sad, sad tale, and only one of us can feel the pain.
"Jeff, I know the background. Hell, I grew up on his music. I think he's produced hit albums in five different decades."
"He has." The editor took a swig from the bottle of water sitting on his desk. "And, he's been accused of stealing other people's material, taking unfair credit for other people's work."
"And on and on. Producers get that rap."
"And it's usually true. Danny Murtz has had his share of lawsuits, and he's won them all."
"What can I say, Jeff. It's a dirty business. But Murtz has been successful."
"Wildly successful. So, you'll do it?"
Sever surveyed the piles of paper on Bloomfield's desk. God deliver him from a desk job. Being an editor, a publisher, a pencil-pushing clerk was the last thing he could think of doing. He lived for the road. He lusted for the long-distance story, where he could get to the heart of the matter. Especially now. "Where is he?"
"He lives here. In Chicago."
"That keeps it simple."
"But I got a call from his attorney yesterday. He says A&E will be doing an interview on St. Barts."
"Yeah. He was going to do the shoot here, but he's got a place on the island and had to go there at the last minute."
St. Barts. He'd taken his honeymoon on St. Martin, just a fifteen minute plane ride from the French Island of St. Barts. He and Ginny, the ex.
"I don't know, Jeff. I've got some things back here —" He thought about the tall, leggy, blond singer, Randi Parks, who was working her way up the ladder on American Idol, and the interview he was scheduled to do with her for MTV. She'd been so excited about the interview that she'd flooded his answering machine with phone calls, but when he finally called her yesterday to confirm a date, nothing. She never returned the call. So maybe the interview with Murtz was meant to be.
Bloomfield smiled, the deep wrinkles in his pale face showing ten years on Sever. "Come on, Mick. We're paying you to take a great vacation. April on St. Barthélémy. We want to tie into the TV special."
St. Barts. There would be some painful memories.
I've got a sad, sad tale, and only one of us can feel the pain.
"What's he doing on St. Barts?"
"As I said, he's got a villa up in the hills, and I think there's a band over there he's working with. The Indoorfins? Maybe you've heard of them. Anyway, it all came up rather suddenly. Harvey Schwartz, this attorney, called me this morning and said they're in St. Barts. Last week they decided to take his show on the road. Of course, you were our first choice to do the interview."
"Yeah, the guy apparently is an attorney, handler, organizer — I don't know. Jack of all trades. You know better than I. Danny Murtz is a star, a legend, and he's got people!"
Sever nodded. "An entourage. A star's got to have his people." It sounded like this Schwartz was the buffer who handled Murtz's life for him.
"Anyway, I guess A&E had to scramble to accommodate the move. They were all set to film it here."
"What's the budget?"
"We'll pay you your going rate plus a nice bonus, put you up at a four-star hotel on the beach, and you retain the rights to the story once it's run."
The Caribbean in April. It sounded right. A warm beach, bright sunshine, and escape from the Chicago winter. "I've never met Murtz."
"I thought you'd met and interviewed just about everyone in the business."
He had. The music business, recording business, the business of rock and roll. A fantasy world, where money was everything and trust and honesty meant nothing. That had pretty much shaped his life. He'd met most of them, partied with a majority, and had a small fortune to show for it. That, and little else.
"I'm surprised he's doing the A&E piece. He's like the Howard Hughes of the music industry."
"Yeah, I've been reading up on him. Mansion in Hollywood, townhouse here in Chicago, and a villa in St. Barts, but he doesn't do much with the press. Somewhat of a recluse. The last media interview I could find was about fifteen years ago." Bloomfield handed Sever two pieces of paper stapled together.
Sever glanced down at the two pages. "Playboy?"
"They interviewed him for this article titled "Men Behind the Music." He didn't give them much. He rates about two paragraphs in the entire story."
Sever nodded. "But he still gets publicity. The kind he doesn't want."
"Oh yeah. The National Enquirer loves him. We've got a file on him that you'll probably want to review. Firearm charges, abuse, resisting arrest, DWI, drunk and disorderly, and assorted other pleasantries."
"Still," Sever heard the song in his head, "he makes some damned fine music."
"Not my style, but he's certainly maintained his popularity. So, I ask you again, will you do it?"
"Sure. He's an interesting guy. If he'll talk, it should be a good interview."
"You're saying yes has nothing to do with the rum drinks and the topless French babes on the beaches?"
Sever ignored him. "When do I leave?"
"Day after tomorrow. Eight a.m. You fly to St. Martin."
Sever cringed. An involuntary cringe. St. Martin, the scene of the honeymoon.
"Then you'll layover for one hour, or two or three if the shuttle decides to be late." Island time. In the Caribbean that meant whenever the hell they felt like it. "Then you take a fifteen-minute ride on the puddle jumper onto St. Barts."
"Okay. Three days should do it. If I can't get a story out of him in three days, I'm not going to get a story at all."
"Oh, and Mick, about twelve years ago, there were charges that Murtz pistol-whipped a guy."
"You told me. With all the charges against him, it's obvious he has a nasty streak."
"Yeah, but I thought you ought to know. This guy he beat up was a reporter doing a story on him."
"I can usually take care of myself." Six feet tall, a little boxing at the Lake Shore Gym, some light workouts with free weights when in town, Sever worked at staying in shape. Sort of.
"Jeff, you said there's a bonus."
The editor brushed back what hair there was left on his balding head. "I've always been straight with you, Mick. There's another angle to this interview."
Excerpted from St. Barts Breakdown by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2008 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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