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Authors: Bill Moody

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BOOK: Fade to Blue
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“This is a check for ten thousand dollars,” she says.

The audience jumps to their feet and bursts into an ovation that lasts over a minute. I watch from the piano, as stunned as Ruth obviously is. I’m sure Ryan never heard of Herman Cassidy until I told him about the benefit. It’s an amazing gesture but it makes me wonder at his motives.

Ruth then motions to a small woman in her late sixties to come up. “Ryan, this is Hoppy’s wife.” She hands the check to her and steps aside.

Ryan smiles and hugs her. “Young man, you can’t imagine how much this means, how much it will help Hoppy. He loves your movies.”

There’s more applause as she returns to her seat, clutching the check. Ryan grabs the microphone. “Hey, we’re not finished yet. I want to invite everybody here tonight to the premiere of my next movie. And hey, you all better be there.”

There’s laughter and more applause as Ryan walks off and goes back to his table. Looking shocked, Ruth says, “Well the only way to follow that is I guess with some more jazz from Evan Horne and his trio.”

We play for another forty minutes, closing with a blues that lets everybody stretch out. Ruth comes back up to the stage. “Thanks so much, guys. That was great. Get something to eat.”

I get a plate from the buffet, join Ryan’s table, and sit down next to Andie. “You were good as always,” she says.

“Yes,” Melanie says. “Hearing you with a group was just wonderful.”

“Yeah, he’s something isn’t he, baby?” Ryan says, and he sounds genuine. I glance at Andie and she shrugs.

We talk some more, sample the buffet until I feel Ryan getting restless. “Would you mind if I got going?” he asks me.

“Ryan, I think at this point you could do anything you want.”

“Cool. We’ll see you back at the house then.” He and Melanie and Grant Robbins say their goodbyes to Ruth Price, and to his credit, Ryan stops at Mrs. Cassidy’s table for a moment.

“He’s really not a bad guy,” I say to Andie.

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m ready too, if you are.”

Jack and Buster Browne are packing up as we head for the exit. I slip them both fifty bucks.

“Hey, not necessary,” Buster says, “but much appreciated.”

Outside, there are even more fans waving photos and pens at Ryan to stop and sign. Coop hovers right behind him, his eyes scanning the crowd. Ryan gives a final wave and smile and heads for the car Robbins has had pull up.

One of the photographers climbs over the barrier and, walking backwards, keeps shooting. Coop waves him aside but he pays no attention, the camera almost in Ryan’s face. I see it’s the same guy from the restaurant at lunch. Robbins has the car door open and ushers Melanie inside, but the photographer blocks Ryan.

“Come on, Flash,” Coop says. “Show’s over.”

He ignores Coop and reaches out with one hand. Coop grabs him, twists his arm behind his back and leans him against the car. Ryan glares, starts to get in, then suddenly yanks on the camera strap, breaking it, and throws the camera on the ground before he jumps in the car.

“Go,” he says. The car speeds away, and the crowd is suddenly quiet. Then there’s another explosion of yelling and flashes as everybody shoots the car and the photographer, on his hands and knees, picking up the pieces of his camera.

Coop leans down and helps him to his feet. “You should have listened, sport.”

“Fuck you,” the photographer says, jerking away from Coop’s grip. “He’s going to pay for this. He broke the lens.” The body of the camera looks whole, so the film is probably okay.

“I’ll get the car,” I say to Andie. I leave her with Coop and look for the valet guy. “The red BMW,” I tell him.

“It’s gone, man. He jumped out of the limo and took it.” He looks panicked. “You said it was his car.”

“Yeah, it is. Don’t worry about it.”

I go back to Coop and Andie. “Ryan took the sports car.”

“Was Melanie with him?” Andie asks.

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

Coop frowns. “Come on. I’ll take you guys back with me.”

When we get back to the house, there’s no BMW and no Ryan Stiles. Melanie and Grant Robbins are standing in the kitchen.

“What happened?”

“He just jumped out of the car,” Melanie says.

“He’s not answering his cell either,” Robbins says. “Is the photographer okay?”

Coop nods. “I think he’s going to want a new camera though.”

Robbins sighs. “I wish it was going to be that easy.” He looks at Melanie. “I have to go. Have him call me as soon as he gets in.” Melanie nods and heads for her room.

“Me too,” Coop says. “Nothing I can do here. He’s probably just blowing off steam.”

Andie and I head for the guesthouse. “Isn’t Hollywood exciting,” she says.

Chapter Seven

I leave Andie still sleeping and go up to the house in search of coffee. Melanie is already there, in baggy sweats, no makeup, sipping orange juice and talking with Emillio. She turns when she sees me. “He just called,” she says. “He’s at his father’s house.”

“Is he okay?” I take a cup of coffee from Emillio and nod my thanks.

“Yeah, I guess,” Melanie says. She seems both relieved and angry.

“So, is he on the way?”

She pauses. “He wants you to come and get him.”

“Me? But he has his car.”

“I know, I know, but he says he doesn’t feel like driving. Do you mind? I just want him back here.” She looks away for a moment. “He asked for you.”

“Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“Oh, thank you.” She moves in and hugs me.

“What’s going on?” We turn and see Andie walking in.

“Ryan is at his Dad’s. I have to go get him.”

“Lucky you,” Andie says

Melanie turns to the counter, writes down an address on a pad and hands me a key. “Here, take the Mercedes.”

I take the key and note and head back for the guess house to get dressed. When I return, Andie and Melanie are sitting out on the deck. Emillio hands me another coffee in a travel mug. “Have fun, girls.”

The address is in the north end of the San Fernando Valley. It’s a long haul from Malibu, and even on a Saturday morning, the traffic is heavy. Following Melanie’s directions, I exit the Ventura Freeway at Fallbrook, drive east to Calvert, and start checking street numbers. I finally find the house a couple of miles from the freeway, almost hidden by big trees that nearly engulf the circular driveway.

I turn off the engine and consider the house. It’s a rambling, ranch style, probably built in the fifties. Pleasant enough but nothing to show it belongs to the parents of a multimillionaire movie star.

As I get out of the car, a small compact man comes out to greet me. He’s dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, and boots. His hair is graying and his weathered face breaks into a smile. “You must be Evan,” he says, shaking my hand vigorously. “Come in, come in. I’m Ben Stiles. Ryan is having a shower and getting cleaned up.”

I follow him into the house, through an expansive living room of well worn furniture dominated by a huge projection screen television. He catches me looking. “Gift from Ryan,” he says, as if he needed to justify it’s presence. “He wanted to buy us a new house, but his mom and I like it here.” He shrugs. “This is where Ryan grew up.”

Stiles leads me into the kitchen. “How about some coffee?” Without waiting for an answer, he pours us two mugs from a glass pot, and gets a container of half-and-half from the refrigerator. We sit down at a huge oak table that gives us a view of the large backyard dotted with a few trees and shrubs. I glance at a large glass ashtray on the table with a couple of half-smoked butts.

Stiles shrugs. “Not me, my wife,” he says. “Smoke if you want,” he says, noticing the bulge in my shirt pocket.

“Thanks.” I light up and sip the coffee, waiting for more, but Stiles is quiet for a long moment

“Thanks for coming over,” he says, looking into his cup. “Ryan was not in very good shape last night. It was really late. I know Melanie must have been worried when he didn’t come home. I told him to call her. Such a sweet girl.”

“She was worried. We all were.”

Stiles nods. “He told me a little about it this morning.” He shakes his head. “That photographer. It’s terrible the way those guys are. I know they have to make a living, but, sometimes they go too far.” He looks up and stares out the window. “Ryan’s under a lot of pressure, as I’m sure you know.” He looks up and smiles then, “But hey, he told me you’re teaching him to play the piano for his next movie.”

“Well, just to make it look like he’s playing,” I say. “He’s catching on pretty well.”

“Yeah, once Ryan starts something, he throws himself into it, just like he did with swimming.”

“Yeah he told me a little about that.” Listening, looking at Ryan’s father, it’s hard to believe this is the same man who tossed his son in the deep end of a pool and left him to literally sink or swim.

Stiles stands up. “I bet he didn’t tell you about this. Come on, I want to show you something.”

I follow him back through the living room to a small room just adjacent. It’s crowded with bookshelves, a couple of easy chairs, and on one wall, a wooden case with glass doors. The case is filled with several trophies and plaques of all kinds. Stiles opens the door, takes out one of the bigger trophies, and hands it to me.

I look at the figure perched on top, and read the inscription. Ryan’s name is prominently displayed in big letters. I stare for a moment, not comprehending at first. Stiles takes my silence for admiration. “Pretty impressive, eh?”

I hand the trophy back and he carefully replaces it in the case. “Yeah, very.”

“He made the Olympic trials one year. Kid really had it, then he got involved in this movie stuff, and well, that’s turned out pretty well, too.”

We go back to the kitchen and finish our coffee. I only half listen to Stiles ramble on about life in the valley and Ryan’s childhood, my mind whirling, anger building with each passing minute. Finally, Ryan appears, his hair still wet from the shower, dressed in clothes I’ve never seen.

“Hey, there he is,” Ryan says. “Dad been boring you to death?”

I turn and look into Ryan’s eyes. “No, not at all. It’s been very interesting. I’ve learned a lot.” Ryan meets my eyes for a moment, trying to read my words. I stand up. “Come on, we better get going,” I say. “Melanie is waiting.”

I shake hands with Ben Stiles. “Nice to finally meet you,” he says. “Sorry you couldn’t meet Ryan’s mother. She’s out shopping.”

“Some other time,” I say.

“Take care, Dad. Thanks for the bed,” Ryan says

We go out to the car and get in as Ben Stiles stands in the driveway and waves. Ryan puts sunglasses on and leans back on the seat. “Man, what a night,” he says. “I needed to get away.” He turns toward me. “What’s the fallout? I have to buy that moron a new camera?”

“I haven’t heard.” I point to the BMW parked near the garage. “What about the other car?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll have somebody pick it up.”

At the freeway, I start to take the eastbound on-ramp but Ryan waves me off. “Go west and we’ll take Malibu Canyon. It’s faster.”

I merge with traffic and don’t say a word as we take the canyon exit. A few miles down Malibu Canyon road, I turn off onto am area that allows other cars to pass. I shut off the engine and look at Ryan.

He pushes the glasses up and looks at me. “What? Why did you stop?”

“Your dad showed me,” I say.

“Showed you what?”

“NCAA national title. One hundred meter freestyle champion.” I watch Ryan’s expression change. “Your fucking swimming trophies.”

Ryan drops his head down to his chest and groans. “I forgot how Dad likes to brag about me.”

“Oh, you forgot? You forgot you were a champion swimmer when I dragged you out of the surf. Who else knows? Melanie? Robbins? You want to tell me what that was all about?” I get out of the car, slam the door, and walk back a few yards to stand and look down at the canyon below.

Ryan gets out and follows me. “Look, man, it’s complicated. I can explain.”

I look at him. “I can hardly wait.”

Ryan scuffs his foot in the dirt and looks away for a moment, gazing out over the canyon. “It was kind of a spurof the moment thing.” He shrugs. “I guess I wanted to see what you’d do, how you’d react. I was going to say, ‘hey, I’m kidding, I’m all right,’ but then I swallowed a lot of water, and it just got out of hand, kind of took on a life of its own.”

He gives me that charming smile the whole world knows that has got him out of a lot of situations. “A life of its own, huh? And what about later when you told me that story about your dad throwing you in the pool. Jesus, you made it sound like child abuse, and having just met your dad, that doesn’t work now.”

He looks away again. “No, Dad’s a good guy.”

“You were very convincing.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

I walk away a few steps then turn back. “Anything else you’re not telling me?”

Ryan holds up his hands. “No, really that’s it, and I am really sorry.”

I nod and walk back to the car. We get in and I start the engine. I look over at Ryan. I can see him trying to calculate if he’s gone too far. Then he smiles again. “But hey, thanks for saving me.”

When we get back to the house, Grant Robbins is waiting, looking very agitated. “We have to talk. Now,” he says, before Ryan can say anything. “Do you mind?” he asks me.

“Not in the least.”

Melanie comes in and goes to Ryan for the welcome back hug. “You had us so worried,” she says.

“I know,” Ryan says. “Sorry, baby, I’ll tell you about it later.” He and Robbins go into the living room and Melanie follows me out to the deck.

“Andie is down at the beach,” Melanie says. She’s recovered and all smiles now.

“Thanks.” I jog down the path and find Andie stretched out on a big towel in a black bikini, her hair still wet. She turns her head toward me, looking from behind big sunglasses.

“Like my suit?”

“Fetching.” I sit down next to her and light a cigarette.

“Everything okay with our movie hero?”

“Yeah. Guess he had a bad night. I met his dad. Nice guy.” I pause. “He showed me Ryan’s swimming trophies.”

Andie sits up and takes off her glasses. “His what?”

“Yep, a whole case full of them. NCAA hundred meter free style national champion.”

The waves are bigger today, pounding and crashing on the beach, the water line creeping up ever closer. “So the whole almost drowning thing was fake.”

“Completely.” I tell her what Ryan said about it, being a spur of the moment thing.

“Jesus,” Andie says, he’s a real piece of work.” She thinks for a moment. “He was testing you. Not for whether you’d rescue him, but to see if you’d tell anyone, leak it to the press. But it was a safe test. If you did, he could just deny the whole thing, trot out his trophies, and he’d know he couldn’t trust you.”

“But why is that so important?”

Andie shrugs. “I haven’t figured that out yet. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Melanie knew.”

“I don’t either. I saw her face. She was genuinely upset when I got him back up on the beach.”

“Why wouldn’t you tell your live-in girlfriend? We had a long talk. She’s a really nice girl, just kind of caught up in this whole Hollywood star thing, and she’s more than a bit scared of him, but she loves him.”

“Yeah I got that when I talked to her after the lunch skirmish at the restaurant.”

Andie puts her glasses back on and looks out to sea. “So what are you going to do?”

“I’m not sure. I’d really like to score this movie.”

She moves closer and kisses me. “I know.”

We turn and see Emillio coming down the path. “Sorry to interrupt,” he says. “Mr. Robbins would like to see you.”

I stand up and brush the sand off. “See you in a bit.”

Andie nods and lays back down. “Come get me later.”

I find Ryan and Grant Robbins still in the living room. Robbins is on his phone, pacing around while Ryan noodles at the piano.

“All right. I’m meeting with Ryan now. We’ll take care of it,” Robbins says, before he breaks the connection. He turns to Ryan. “That was Cy Perkoff. It’s going to cost you. That photographer is going to file assault charges.”

Ryan stops playing and turns around. “He’s bluffing. Make him a settlement offer. Buy him a new camera, give him some money. He’s a jerk.”

“It may not be that easy,” Robbins says. “He was doing his job, and that was your second run-in with him.”

“So what? I’ll file harassment charges against him. That was his second time crossing the line with me.” Ryan looks at me. “Besides, Evan was there both times. He saw the whole thing.”

“I also saw you rip his camera from around his neck when Coop was holding him.”

Ryan just grins. “Yeah, that was cool, wasn’t it.”

Grant Robbins sighs. “No, it wasn’t cool, it was stupid. If you had just gotten in the car, we could have gone for a restraining order, but no judge will grant that now. Dammit, Ryan, you just have to get control of your temper.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Ryan says, waving his hand at Robbins like he wants him to go away.

Robbins looks at me and rolls his eyes. “Anyway,” he says, “we have something more pleasant to talk about. How’s he doing with the piano?”

“It’s starting to come together,” I tell him.

“Good enough to stage a demonstration?”

“When?”

“Early next week,” Robbins says. “We have the three principal investors ready to talk, but they want to see how Ryan looks at the piano.”

Ryan sits up straight. “I can do it, right, Evan?”

I feel Robbins and Ryan both watching me. We have a few more days and I have an idea how to put things together to make Ryan look convincing. “Yeah, I think you can.”

“Great,” Robbins says, relief spreading over his face.

Ryan stands up and stretches. “I have some making up to do with Melanie.” He waves and walks out. “See you later, Evan.”

I sit down opposite Robbins. “God, he can be trying. I really appreciate your patience.”

“While you’re here, there’s a couple of things I want to talk to you about.”

Robbins puts up his hand. “I know what you’re going to say, and I swear, I didn’t know about the swimming either. I can’t believe he kept that from me all this time.”

“It’s not only that,” I say. “I didn’t sign on for all this, the temper tantrums, the drama, but I’m making a lot of allowances for Ryan, because frankly, I really want to score this film. But I don’t like being lied to and I still haven’t seen any script. I don’t even know what this movie is supposed to be about, if there’s really going to be a movie.”

Robbins goes quiet, just listening. “I know,” he says. “Believe me, I know it can be difficult with Ryan, but you’re doing a great job and it’s important that he likes and trusts you. He talks about you all the time. It may not seem like it, but you’re having a lot of influence on him.” Robbins looks up like he’s searching for words. “It’s like you’re an older brother he never had.”

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