Authors: Bill Moody
Tags: #Fiction / Mystery & Detective / General
“Great,” Ryan says. “I really appreciate it.”
When they’re gone, Coop sits down. I can see little beads of sweat on his forehead. “I’ve never seen a woman like that, up close I mean,” he says.
“You mean Melanie? Yeah, she’s kinda cute.”
“Kinda cute? I would have walked here from Santa Monica to meet her.”
“Well, relax cop friend. She’s all Ryan’s.”
“I’m sure she is.” He shakes his head and takes a deep breath. “I need a drink.”
Within a half hour, the house is full of people laughing, talking, sampling the food and drink, moving from the house out to the pool surrounded by torch lights. Some faces are vaguely familiar from movies, television, or magazines. Ryan introduces me to a few, whose names I don’t know, but who I’ve seen in several pictures. The food is good, the bar flows freely. I drift around feeling, despite the crowd, kind of alone as I overhear snatches of conversations.
“Oh, it’s definite, honey. I’ve got a deal with Universal.”
“God, did you see that photo of Carol? She’s so over.”
“I love the concept. Call me next week.”
Whenever I spot Coop, he’s talking to somebody different. Later, I find him huddled with a dark-haired woman out by the pool. She’s no starlet, more in her mid-thirties, but strikingly beautiful.
“Hey, this is Connie,” he says. “I was just telling her about stakeouts.”
“Sounds like exciting work,” she says, winking at me.
“Coop leads a pretty exciting life,” I say.
She looks at Coop. “Maybe you could call me sometime?”
Before Coop can answer I see Ryan shouldering his way through the throng. “Evan, ready to do a little playing now?”
“Sure.” I follow Ryan back to the living room. I’m not crazy about this idea but feel like I have to go through with it. I don’t like the feeling of being imposed on.
Ryan stands on a chair and everybody quiets down.
“Can I have your attention please,” he says. “I have a special surprise for you. Evan Horne is going to play for us.” I catch people looking at each other, wondering who I am. “Evan is one of the top pianists in jazz and my good friend. Let’s show him some love.”
I glance at Coop and roll my eyes. He slips his arm around the dark-haired woman. “Go get ’em, sport.”
I sit down at the piano, deciding to just immerse myself in the music, forget the setting, the people, and just enjoy playing this beautiful piano. I start with a ballad, “Moon and Sand,” which seems appropriate, slide into “All of You,” and end with an up-tempo blues line. When I stop, I’m suddenly aware of the total silence in the room. I turn on the bench and then there’s an eruption of applause and whistles.
Ryan steps up. “How about that? Is that fucking jazz piano or what?” He leans in closer to me, Melanie by his side. “Awesome, man, just fucking awesome! I taped the whole thing. This could be a scene in the movie.”
Melanie gives me a peck on the cheek. “Yeah, there is a party scene in the script.”
Ryan turns on Melanie. “Not now, baby. Get us a drink.” He pushes her away. She looks back once then heads for the bar, just as Grant Robbins steps up. I had looked but hadn’t seen him all evening.
“That was almost as good as the Jazz Bakery,” he says. “How are you, Evan? All settled in?”
“Fine. Quite a party.”
“Oh, pretty tame as these things go with Ryan.”
“If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to talk with you somewhere quiet.”
“How about in the morning. I really have to go. I’ll call you.”
Before I can say more, he’s gone.
The party breaks up around midnight. Early for a Hollywood bash I imagine. I catch Coop saying his goodbyes to Ryan, then he comes over to me.
“Thanks for the invite, sport,” he says. “Had a little talk with Ryan.” He winks and gives me a knowing smile. “I might join the payroll, too. Technical consultant.”
I nod and look around. “Where’s that woman?”
“Not to worry. We’re going to get together. She’s working on a TV show.” He claps a hand on my shoulder. “Stay in touch.”
I head for the guesthouse, wishing Andie could have stayed another day.
I had cracked the window a few inches when I went to bed, so I awake to the sound of the surf and the smell of cool, fresh, sea air. I splash cold water on my face, throw on some sweat pants and a tee shirt, grab my cell phone and cigarettes, and go in search of coffee. In the house, there’s little evidence of the party. It’s all quiet and somebody, probably Emillio, has already done some serious cleaning up. No sign of Ryan or Melanie.
In the kitchen, I find a fresh pot of coffee on the warming pad. Sugar, cream, a spoon, and a large mug emblazoned with some studio insignia, are all laid out neatly on the counter. I take the coffee and cigarettes outside and settle into a chair by the pool, soon caught up in the hypnotizing view of the surf and sand. Sunday morning in Malibu.
I go back in the kitchen for a second cup when Emillio comes in from the garage carrying two shopping bags. “Breakfast,” he says. He sets the bag on the counter and begins unpacking. “I have bacon, eggs, bagels, fruit, orange juice. Can I make you something?”
“Hey, morning. Nothing right now, thanks.” He nods and starts putting everything away. “Do you ever get a day off?”
“Sundays, usually.” He glances at his watch. “Mr. Stiles won’t be up till noon anyway. Let me know if you need anything.”
I nod and go back out to the pool. I’m just starting on the second cup when my phone rings.
“Hi, baby,” Andie says. “How’s everything in Hollywood land?”
“Very Hollywood. Coop is adapting nicely. He came to the party last night and I think scored with an actress. He also said Ryan tapped him to be technical consultant for the new movie.”
“At least you’ll have an ally. How was the party?”
“Also very Hollywood. Lots of people I vaguely recognized. Ryan had me play a few tunes.”
“That’s not part of your duties is it?”
“No, but I didn’t see that it hurt anything.”
“He wanted to show you off. He loves that power thing,” Andie says.
“Got him all figured out, huh?
“Not entirely, but I’m working on it. How about Melanie?”
“How about her? She looked gorgeous. I thought Coop was going to pass out when Ryan introduced her.”
Andie laughs. “I can just imagine him panting and sweating. Any other news?”
“Grant Robbins came late. I tried to corner him but no luck. He’s supposed to call this morning, so maybe I’ll find out more.” There’s a pause from Andie. “What?”
“I don’t know. Just being my FBI paranoid self I guess. When do you start the actual tutoring?”
“Probably tomorrow. I’ll get more of a handle on things then, I think. What are you doing?”
“I’m still in bed, dreading work tomorrow, wishing you were here with me.” Her voice drops to a throaty whisper. “Want to fly up for the day?”
“You temptress you.”
She laughs. “Always. Well, take care, sweetie.”
“You too. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“You better. Say hello to Melanie.”
I just close the phone when it rings again.
“Evan. Grant Robbins. Not calling too early I hope. How about some breakfast?”
“Sounds good. You coming here to the house? Emillio just brought in some stuff.”
“No, I’d prefer someplace we can talk. You know where Point Dume is?”
“Okay. Turn in the road there. There’s a restaurant at the bottom of the hill by the beach. Half hour?”
“See you there.”
I park Ryan’s BMW and look across the parking lot to a strip of beach, suddenly realizing that’s where the trailer James Garner lived in the
series. Inside, I find Grant Robbins already in a booth by a window, drinking coffee and staring at the ocean. He half rises to shake hands and signals a waitress.
“Thanks for coming. It was just too wild last night.” He’s dressed casually in slacks and a sweater.
“No problem.” I order pancakes and sausage.
“Over easy with bacon and toast for me,” Robbins tells the waitress. She pours some coffee for me and leaves us.
“First things first,” Robbins says. He looks around, making sure we’re out of earshot, although there are only a few people scattered about. “That was really something you did yesterday. Ryan is very grateful and so am I.”
I shrug. “No big thing.”
“Yes it was. A very big thing, and keeping it quiet is even bigger. You do understand that don’t you?”
“I haven’t called the
if that’s what you mean.”
“I’m sorry,” Robbins says. “I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”
“Why did he do it?”
“Who knows. He can be careless, reckless even. Trying to impress you. I don’t know. Look, Ryan is this young guy, competent actor, who quite suddenly became a big movie star. He makes millions per picture. He’s been thrust in the limelight in such a big way, the pressure sometimes gets to be too much. You’ve seen these new kids. Money, fame, drugs, arrests, scandals. Ryan has money, power, fame, control, but he can’t swim.”
Robbins stops as the waitress brings our order and refills our coffee cups. He digs in then looks at me. “Ryan just wanted me to talk to you, kind of reassure him.”
I wondered when that had happened. Sometime during the party? “Tell him he has nothing to worry about with me. Is that why we’re meeting here?”
“Not entirely. I know you must have some questions you’d probably not discuss in front of Ryan.”
“Actually, I do.” I take a few bites of my pancakes thinking about it. “I can show Ryan about the piano, but he has to realize that it’s up to him to work it out. I can’t do it for him.”
“No problem there. He’s obsessed. He’ll put in the time. I guarantee it, and he’ll try to become your friend in the process. Believe me, he’s very impressed with you, both as a person and a musician.”
I look up at Robbins. “Am I missing something?”
Robbins gestures at me with his fork. “You’ve earned your place. You studied, practiced, nurtured your talent, and overcame a tremendous setback when you had that car accident.” He glances at my right wrist. “Still give you any trouble?”
“Sometimes.” I flash back to the months of physical therapy, the counseling before I could return to playing full time. “It was a long road to recovery.”
“Exactly,” Robbins says, “but you did it and also survived some other pretty scary experiences.”
He knows it all without going into detail. “I got myself into those situations,” I say.
“You also got yourself out. Ryan admires you for that. It wasn’t a script made up for a movie. That was real life. You dealt with a real serial killer and helped bring her down.”
I push my plate aside. “We don’t really have to go into that do we.”
“Of course not,” Robbins says. “I’m sorry for bringing it up. I’m just trying to tell you where Ryan is coming from in regard to you.”
“So what about this new movie. You were serious about me scoring it?”
Robbins looks genuinely surprised. “Absolutely. We just have some contract details to work out.”
“To do even some preliminary sketching it would be nice to know what the story is about, maybe even see the script, don’t you think?”
“And you will,” Robbins says. “All in good time.”
“There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Robbins smiles. “I should have known you’d pick up on that. Let me just give it to you in a nutshell.”
“This is an independent film. No studio involved until it’s done. Then we’ll try to get a deal for distributions, get it in one of the festivals—Sundance, maybe even Cannes. The financing comes from a group of investors who think Ryan Stiles stock is first rate, and of course it is. We don’t anticipate any real problems, but a couple of them are concerned about various other elements. The costar, the story, the fact that it deals with Ryan as a jazz musician. They want to know why we can’t have Quincy Jones or some other hot shot Hollywood composer score the film.”
Robbins pauses, glances out the window at the surf rolling in. “I can’t tell them you’re an experienced film composer can I? Not that I don’t think for a minute you can’t do it,” he adds quickly.
I nod, knowing he’s right, and realize how much I don’t know about the movie business. “So, how do we get around this?”
“Here’s what I want you to do. Get started with the tutoring. Concentrate on getting Ryan up to speed. We’re meeting with the investors again soon. It’s kind of a dog and pony show. By then we can say how happy Ryan is working with you, and you’re the man to score this film. You see where I’m going with this?”
“Yeah, I think so. Will that be enough for the investors?”
Robbins smiles again. “Remember what I told you before. What Ryan Stiles wants, he gets, and these guys not only want to see a return on their money, they want to see themselves attached to a big name movie star and their names in the credits.”
“Okay. I figure to get started tomorrow.”
“Good,” Robbins says. “One other thing. You have any problems, you call me. I’ll handle Ryan.”
Back at the house, I pull up in front of the gates and realize I don’t know the code to get inside. I press a button on the key pad.
“Yes?” It’s Emillio’s voice coming through the speaker.
“It’s Evan. You’ll have to let me in.” I wait a few seconds for the gates to open, pull in, and park the car. Ryan and Melanie are having breakfast by the pool. “Hey,” Ryan says. “You’re an early bird.” Melanie is thumbing through a magazine. She looks up and smiles. “Sit down, dig in. Emillio makes a great omelet.”
I take a chair. “No, thanks. I already got something. Decided to take a drive. Hope it was okay to use the car again.”
Ryan nods. “Sweet, isn’t it. Where’d you go?”
“Point Dume. I was curious to see where James Garner’s trailer was parked.” Ryan looks at me blankly. “You know,
The Rockford Files
“Must have been before my time.” We lapse into silence for a bit, which seems to make Ryan edgy. “Melanie and I are going to drive into Santa Monica later, have some lunch. Why don’t you come along?”
Why not? The alternative is hanging around the house all afternoon. “Sure, but isn’t it difficult for you in public?”
“Photographers, you mean? Yeah, but I gotta get out sometimes.” He grins. “You’ll be a diversion. They’ll be trying to figure out who you are,” he says. He glances at his watch. “I’ll make a reservation. About one, okay?”
“Sure. I think I’ll get in some practice time.”
“Cool.” He stands and Melanie follows suit.
I go into the house and sit down at the piano, playing some scales chords then slide into “If You Could See Me Now.” I play for a little over an hour and when I look up, I see Emillio, standing in the doorway watching.
“You play beautifully,” he says. He hands me a slip of paper with some numbers. “That’s the code for the gate.”
“Can you really teach Mr. Stiles to play?”
I take my hands off the keyboard. “I can teach him to
like he’s playing.”
Emillio smiles. “That I have to see.”
We drive into Santa Monica in Ryan’s other car, the Mercedes. I sit in the back behind him, and watch Melanie flinch occasionally as he drives way too fast, changing lanes, swerving and zipping around other cars. He has a Keith Jarrett CD playing. I recognize it as
Live at the Blue Note.
“What’s with all the moaning?” Ryan says as he turns up the California Incline to Ocean Avenue. He means the way Jarrett sings along with the notes he plays.
“That’s just Keith’s way.”
“I like it,” Melanie says, turning her head toward me. “It sounds so…so real.”
Ryan glances at her. “Yeah, you like moaning, don’t you.”
She colors slightly and shakes her head. “God, Ryan.”
He grins at her and pats her leg. “Just kidding, baby.” She pulls away and gazes out the side window.
Just off Ocean Avenue, we pull into the parking lot of a restaurant called The Bistro. At valet parking, three guys in black pants and white shirts stand ready to take charge of the car. A few feet away are a half-dozen photographers pacing around. How does this work, I wonder. Ryan Stiles makes a reservation. The restaurant tips off the photographers for a kickback?
The valet guys open the doors for us and we all get out.
“Hey, Ryan,” one of the photographers yells. “Over here.”
Ryan turns, flashes the smile and waves. I hang back to watch the show. They close in, cameras clicking, jockeying for position and then focus on Melanie, who smiles big, but keeps an eye on Ryan. They all ignore me.
“Thanks, guys,” he says and waves again, then heads into the restaurant. Melanie and I follow just behind him.
“You ever get tired of this?” I ask her quietly. She looks stunning in a black miniskirt and white top, her blond hair flowing around her face.
She nods. “Yes, but it’s all part of the game. Ryan loves it,” she says quieter.
Inside, we’re seated quickly with little stir. Ryan must be a regular. The service and the food are excellent. Melanie picks at a seafood salad. Ryan and I go for steak sandwiches that are so tender they could be cut with a fork. Nobody talks much and Ryan seems restless, distracted, as if he’d expected someone who didn’t show. Maybe he and Melanie had an argument.
We both look up as a man in a Hawaiian shirt stops at the table. “Mr. Stiles, I don’t mean to interrupt your lunch, but would you mind?” He holds out a pen and a piece of paper.
I see the manager fast approaching the table but Ryan waves him off. “It’s okay.” He takes the pen from the man, and signs his name with a flourish. “There you go. Don’t go selling it on eBay.”
The man nods and smiles. “Oh no, never,” he says. “I’m too big a fan for that.” He smiles at Melanie and backs away.
Ryan signs the check and throws down two twenties for the tip and we go back outside to wait for valet to bring the car around. The photographers are still hovering for more pictures as the car arrives. Ryan waves again but as we start to get in the car, one of the photographers moves closer. He’s a big guy with longish hair and a beard. He kneels in front of the passenger door and points his camera at Melanie’s legs.