From the first time they played on the Ed Sullivan Show, Us was the hottest band on earth. For more than a decade, the group tore through the charts and indulged in an endless cycle of drugs, women, and violence, until two musicians died—the drummer by drugs, the guitarist by a crazed gunman. Once the band was finished, lead singer Tristam Scarr retreated to the English countryside, hiding from the world until the day he hires an American to ghostwrite his memoirs. Stewart Hoag arrives in London in the company of Lulu, his ever-hungry basset hound, to find the rock idol of his youth reduced to a wheezing, frail fortysomething. The first thing Starr tells him is that their drummer never overdosed—he was murdered. And as their interviews progress, Hoagy learns that working for a rock star is almost as dangerous as being one.
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The Man Who Lived By Night
A Stewart Hoag Mystery
By David Handler
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 2006 David Handler
All rights reserved.
Tris Scarr lied to me from the beginning. He promised me his limousine would meet my plane at Heathrow to drive me out to Gadpole, his place in Surrey. There was no limo. There was no message for me. There was no phone listing in Surrey for a Scarr, T. I was on my own. And I was not surprised. That was Tris Scarr for you. It wasn't for no reason that an entire generation of rock 'n' roll fans, myself included, knew the lead singer of Us simply as T. S.
I phoned Blakes to see if they had a room, and they did. A taxi took me there. It was the evening rush hour, and raining hard. That didn't stop Lulu, my basset hound, from insisting on a whiff. I rolled down my window. She planted her back paws firmly in my groin, stuck her large black nose out into the wet, fumy air, and snuffled happily. This was her first trip to London. She'd been looking forward to it.
Blakes is a small, quiet hotel on a small, quiet street in South Kensington. I've always liked the place, even though it has gotten chic lately. Merilee and I spent our honeymoon there. I liked it even more when I found out Mr. Tristam Scarr had an account there. I got a cozy room on the top floor in the back. There was a terrace. After I hung up my trench coat and Borsalino, I ordered smoked salmon sandwiches and a pot of tea from room service. Then I phoned the barman. I was working my way through the single malts that year. We decided he'd send up an aged Glenmorangie.
Next I phoned Jay Weintraub, T. S.'s lawyer in New York, and told him we had a problem.
"So he forgot to send a car," Jay soothed. "Not such a big—"
"If it was a priority he would have remembered."
"It is. Look, Hoagy, this is T. S. He's a unique, complex individual. He's been about the most famous rock personality in the world for over twenty years. You got to make allowances for people like that."
"You know what you get when you make allowances for people like that, Jay?"
"A book that no one can be proud of."
"I don't see that happening with a writer of your caliber involved."
I let him have that one.
"Give him a chance, Hoagy. Be patient. T. S. has a hard time trusting people, with everything he's been through. They told me, I mean, you got a rep for being able to handle the tough ones."
"If they're genuinely serious about going through with it."
"He is. I know he is. He's ready to take the step. Bombshells he's got. Between you and me, I think he misses the limelight. And the money doesn't hurt."
The publisher was putting up $1.95 million for Tris Scarr's life story. I was getting a sliver of the pie, plus expenses, to help him tell it.
"I'll call Gadpole," offered Jay. "See if I can straighten this out. He'll get in touch with you. Hang out. It ... it may not be right away."
"I don't know, okay? Just chill out. Please?"
I split the salmon sandwiches with Lulu. She had water with hers. I washed down mine with the tea and a short glass of Glenmorangie. It wasn't the worst scotch I'd ever tasted. Possibly, it was even better than the Glenlivet.
I drew myself a bubble bath. Next to clotted cream, baths are the best part of being in England. The tubs are actually long enough to lie down in. I've never understood the point of short American tubs, other than to drown small, loud children in. I poured myself another Glenmorangie, climbed in, and oozed down, down, down into it.
I didn't mind hanging out. Merilee, my ex-wife, happened to be arriving in a couple of days to play Tracy Lord in a revival of The Philadelphia Story at the Haymarket. Anthony Andrews of Brideshead Revisited was starring opposite her as C. K. Dexter Haven. There had been a rumor in Liz Smith's column before I left that Merilee and her new husband, that fabulously hot young playwright Zack something, weren't getting along. He was not making the trip with her.
I lay there in the tub, sipping my single malt and wondering. Wondering if she'd be happy to see me. Wondering what, if anything, would happen between us now that I sort of had my juices back. Merilee. We had fallen for each other in that fine, first flush of our own successes. She was Merilee Nash, Joe Papp's newest, loveliest darling. I was Stewart Hoag, that tall, dashing author of that fabulously successful first novel, Our Family Enterprise—the man who the New York Times had called "the first major new literary voice of the eighties." God, we were cute. And she stayed cute. Won a Tony for the Mamet play. An Oscar for the Woody Allen movie. Time put her on its cover. Me, I dried up. No juices—of any kind. No second novel. No marriage. I crashed. But that was behind me now. These days I was as happy as a man whose best days are behind him can be. I was even, at long last, working on a second novel. But it was coming in drips, not waves. Possibly, I'd have to finish living it before I could finish writing it. Possibly, I'd even have to grow up a little. In the meantime, I got by as a ghost. I'm ideally suited to my second, somewhat less dignified career as a ghostwriter—partly because celebrity memoirs are more fiction than anything else, partly because as a former luminary I have something in common with my subjects that the lunch-pail ghosts don't. What was it Norma said in Sunset Boulevard? "Great stars have great pride." Yeah. That pretty much covers it.
Of course, I have encountered one small occupational hazard. A ghost is a seeker of celebrity secrets, past and present. As it happens, there's often someone around who doesn't want those secrets dug up. I carry a pen, not a gun. Trouble is not my business. But my business can be trouble.
I ate dinner in the hotel, just in case T. S. called. I wore my navy blue Ferre suit with a starched white shirt, silver cuff links, maroon-and-white polka-dot bow tie and calf-leather braces. I looked like a million bucks. The hush when Lulu and I descended into the plush basement dining room was perceptible.
Chris Reeve was dining there with a stunning blonde. In town to make Superman Eleven, no doubt. He and Merilee did a play in Williamstown one summer, and I had learned that his only off-camera superpower was dullness. I ducked into the tiny bar only to be cornered by a Pittsburgh steel heir who assured me we'd chucked spears against each other on an Ivy League playing field a couple of decades before. I didn't remember him, but these days I find I don't remember much. The novel came up. He'd loved it. I bought him a drink. Or, T. S. did.
I got a corner table, where I tucked away duck liver pâté, lamb chops and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône. Lulu had a little grilled red snapper. I finished off with a pear tart, coffee and Calvados. Lulu had a little more snapper. No call came from T. S. We took a turn through the tidy, orderly streets of South Ken. The rain had let up. It was misty and gloomy out now. I like gloomy. Gloomy is deep. Gloomy is profound. Clear skies are for other people. Clear skies are for volleyball players and arbitrageurs and screenwriters. Lulu was getting into London. She sniffed gleefully at every bush and tree and lamppost, and got muddy paws and ears for her trouble. We went to bed late. Still no call.
The next morning I headed for Jermyn Street. At Floris I bought my cologne and talc. At Turnbull and Asser I bought a new shawl-collared target-dot silk robe. Merilee had stolen my old one. I always did have trouble holding onto my clothes, since she looked so much better in them than I did. The young, rakish T & A clerk, whose name was Nigel, also sold me some white shirts, after he gave up trying to sell me those gaudy striped ones. From there I strolled over to Savile Row. At Strickland's, Mr. Tricker fitted me for a sixteen-ounce gray cheviot wool suit, once he got done sniffing at my Ferre. While I was there I ordered a new pair of cordovan brogans from Maxwell's. There was still no call when I got back to the hotel. I spent the afternoon out on my terrace in the fog with Lulu, a blanket, a pot of tea, the Glenmorangie and Six Decades, a collection of Irwin Shaw short stories which I reread every couple of years to remind myself what good writing is. No call. I went to see the new Ayckbourn play. Still no call.
It woke me in the middle of the night.
"It seems there was a mix-up." The voice was soft and well educated. There was no trace of the famous Liverpudlian accent. Jay had warned me T. S. didn't actually talk the way people thought. That was put on. "I thought you were arriving next week, you see."
I said absolutely nothing. Just listened to him breathe. It sounded like the receiver was stuck halfway down his throat.
"A mix-up, you see," he repeated, a bit uneasily now.
I still said nothing.
Neither did he. Until, after a very long silence, he finally said, "I'm sorry."
"I'll be on the morning train to Guildford. Have someone meet me there."
"Yes. Right. Of course."
"Isn't there something else you wanted to say?"
"Such as that there was no mix-up. That you purposely forgot so you could test my boiling point, and that you won't do it again."
He chuckled. It was the mad, malevolent chuckle of the Jolly Buganeer from Skullduggery, the Us pirate-theme album that sold eight or nine million copies in the early seventies, and was made into that vomitous Ken Russell movie.
"It wouldn't do to push me, mate," he snarled. Now he sounded like the tough teddy who punched his way out of Liverpool-total transformation. "I push back, and bloody hard."
"Fine. Push someone else back. I quit."
I hung up on him. Then I waited for him to call back. Stars always do when I hang up on them. They aren't used to being treated that way. It challenges them. They like it.
I let it ring three times before I answered it. I listened to more heavy breathing. And then, finally:
"I won't do it again."
"Thank you. Good night, Tristam."
"Good night, Hogarth."
I turned over and went back to sleep. Our collaboration had begun.
A claret-colored Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud met me at the Guildford train station. The uniformed chauffeur was in his forties, beefy, red-faced and moustached. I helped him load my bags in the trunk, then Lulu and I sank into the back seat. There was a bar back there. Also a television, a refrigerator, a lot of dark wood and dove gray leather, and a glass divider, which was shut. The ride wasn't bad, if you're into total comfort.
The outskirts of Guildford were dotted with ugly new housing and shopping developments. That's one thing the British do even worse than we do. But soon there was little more than beechwoods and heathland and crumbling stone fences. And peaceful storybook villages. Shere. Gomshall. Wotton. The ramparts of a ruined Norman castle stood guard at the top of a hill outside of Dorking. At Bletchingley, we turned into a narrow, hedge-lined road, and the chauffeur opened the divider.
"That'll be Place Farm on your right, sir," he intoned, as we cruised past a stone castle so colossal even Donald Trump would be content to retire there. "Anne of Cleves lived here. Henry the Eighth gave it to her when they divorced in the year 1540."
"Just think what she'd have gotten if Marvin Mitchelson had been around then."
In another mile or so the hedged road ended at a wrought-iron gate. Here, two guards in business suits were on duty. One of them opened the trunk of the Rolls and began to paw through my bags. The other asked me to please get out of the car.
"We walking the rest of the way?" I asked.
"Routine security, sir," he replied. "Nothing personal."
The accent was American. So was the suit. Sears—the Arnie Palmer collection. He patted me down for hidden weapons, then said I could get back in. The other guard slammed the trunk shut. The gates swung slowly open. And into the realm—the secure realm—of Tristam Scarr we drove.
The road was crushed gravel and lined with beeches. It took us past meadows, past woods, past terraced gardens, past a lake. Then it cut through a clustering of little stone buildings—houses for staff and security people, stables, garages, a chapel. Almost a village unto itself. It was hard to imagine driving for so long without ever leaving your own property. Hard to imagine, but nice. A covered bridge took us over a stream and then there was Gadpole. It was an eighteenth-century brick manor house, three stories high with a glassed dome at its center. I doubt there were more than sixty rooms.
"Rock pays," I said.
"It does indeed, sir," agreed the chauffeur. "Handsomely."
Two more guards were on the front door. There were fourteen of them altogether, I was to learn. All of them retired FBI agents.
The housekeeper wore a sweater and pleated skirt of matching bottle green cashmere and knobby brown oxfords. She was in her sixties, plump, pink-cheeked and silver-haired. She smiled and fluttered a hand at me as I got out.
"Yes, yes, Mister Hoag," she called out cheerily. "Please do come in. He'll not be awake for hours, but he's asked me to make you comfortable. I am Pamela."
"It's Hoagy," I said as we went inside. "And this is Lulu."
"Why hello, Miss Lulu."
Lulu promptly rolled over on the polished marble floor of the entrance hall, four paws up, to be petted. She has a knack for buttering up anyone who might be in a position to slip her tasty morsels.
Delighted, Pamela knelt with a refined grunt and patted Lulu's belly. To Lulu she said, "What a sweet little thing you are." To me she said, "My, her breath is rather ..."
"She has funny eating habits," I informed her. "As I'm sure you'll find out."
Gadpole wasn't an understated house. The entrance hall was two stories high and encrusted with ornate molding. A curving marble staircase wide enough to accommodate a Range Rover led up to the second floor. A tall doorway framed by columns and an angular pediment opened into the immense living room, where there was plenty more wedding-cake plasterwork, and a ceiling painted with nymphs and swans. The furniture was lacquered Louis XV. The tables were gilded with leaf patterns, the chairs intricately carved and upholstered in red silk. It was all exceedingly rococo and, seemingly, genuine. On the walls were a lot of formal portraits of a lot of dead English people. On the floor were richly colored Persian rugs. It wasn't at all the sort of place I'd expected from a man who once dropped his black leather pants in front of eighteen thousand screaming fans at Madison Square Garden and dared the police to arrest him. (They did.) It was more the kind of place I imagined Truman Capote would have lived in if he'd been born a peer. And who's to say he wasn't.
Lulu sneezed. She was shivering. So was her master.
The house was as warm and snug as a meat locker.
"I've had the west wing guest suite made up per your instructions," said Pamela. "I do hope you'll be comfortable."
"If there's heat there we'll be fine."
She chuckled. "You American visitors are always cold."
"And Mr. Scarr?"
She frowned, bit her lower lip fretfully. "I'm afraid Mr. Scarr feels very little."
The west wing guest suite was on the second floor, and so far down the long, carpeted hallway that it was in a different century. This one. The sitting room was masculine and clubby, right down to the hunting scene prints on the walls and the nicely worn leather sofa and armchairs grouped around the fireplace, which was, mercifully, lit. The typewriter I'd asked for was set up on a massive walnut desk in front of the tall windows that overlooked Gadpole's maze. Clearly, whoever had positioned it there had never tried to write a second novel. Pamela opened a wardrobe cupboard to reveal a television, videocassette recorder, stereo system and small refrigerator. There were bookcases full of interesting-looking books and a sideboard full of interesting-looking bottles.
In the bedroom there was a huge four-poster bed and another wardrobe, this one for clothes. Someone had already brought up my bags.
"I'll be in the kitchen if you want breakfast," said Pamela.
"Thank you. Lulu will lead me to it."
Actually, Lulu had claimed the leather chair closest to the fire and showed no signs of ever wanting to move. Possibly she preferred this to our dingy little fifth-floor walk-up on West Ninety-Third Street. Possibly she wasn't the only one.
"Your rooms will be made up daily," Pamela went on gaily. "Anything you need cleaned or laundered please leave by the door, and I'll have it taken care of. I do hope you'll be happy here, Hoagy."
"I think I can manage for the next twenty or thirty years."
Excerpted from The Man Who Lived By Night by David Handler. Copyright © 2006 David Handler. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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