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Authors: Sparkle Hayter

The Last Manly Man

BOOK: The Last Manly Man
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PRAISE FOR THE ROBIN HUDSON MYSTERIES

What's a Girl Gotta Do?

“Put down the paper right now and go out to buy
What's a Girl Gotta Do
.… This is a mystery where you wait on the edge of your seat not for the next murder, but for the next thing that Robin is going to say.… It's the kind of book you'll laugh at out loud, or take to work to read around the coffee machine.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“The most uproariously funny murder mystery ever written.” —Katherine Neville, author of
The Eight

Nice Girls Finish Last

“Witty, irreverent, sometimes bawdy … A rollicking blend of deftly aimed satire and neatly plotted murder mystery.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A hilarious, keenly written romp across the gender divide, downtown Manhattan's alternative scenes, and the frenetic world of TV news.” —
Entertainment Weekly

Revenge of the Cootie Girls

“Sexy, irreverent and wacky. Robin Hudson should be Stephanie Plum's goilfriend.” —Janet Evanovich, #1
New York Times
–bestselling author of
Top Secret Twenty-One

The Last Manly Man

“Offbeat and outrageously funny.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune

“Fast-paced plotting, witty dialogue, fleshed out characters and enough red herrings to distract from the real villains and maintain suspense.”
—Newsday

The Chelsea Girl Murders

“Quirky characters, tough guy talk, romantic longing and unexpected twists … Hayter [is] writing at the top of her game.”
—The Milwaukee Journal

“What a phenomenally entertaining writer Hayter is.”
—The Times
(London)

The Last Manly Man

A Robin Hudson Mystery

Sparkle Hayter

To my dad, who wrote the real polio letter,

and

Mr. Chicken, RIP

I am Tarzan of the Apes. I want you. I am yours. You are mine. We will live here together always in my house. I will bring you the best fruits, the tenderest deer, the finest meats that roam the jungle. I will hunt for you. I am the greatest of the jungle hunters. I will fight for you. I am the mightiest of the jungle fighters. You are Jane Porter, I saw it in your letter. When you see this you will know that it is for you and that Tarzan of the Apes loves you.

EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS,

Tarzan of the Apes, 1914

PROLOGUE

For weeks after my reported death, I made light of it with friends, asking them, “Where were you when you heard I died?”

My mother didn't hear about it, thank God, but the news traveled like wildfire over the Internet to my far-flung friends. My ex-husband Burke was hanging around the state department, looking for a story, when he heard the news from a producer who worked at ANN, the All News Network.

Immediately, Burke E-mailed my old friend Claire Thibodeaux, a White House correspondent, who was on the phone with a spokesman for the Saudi embassy when she read Burke's E-mail: “Just heard. Robin killed in explosion.”

“Holy shit,” Claire said out loud.

“Pardon me?” said the Saudi spokesman.

“I'll have to call you back,” Claire said, and she got to work forwarding Burke's E-mail to various friends, former colleagues, and ex-lovers of mine around the world.

My former colleague Susan Brave-Druper was in L.A., nursing her infant daughter, when she heard.

Tamayo Scheinman, an anarchic Japanese comedienne, was asleep in Tokyo after attending a relative's wedding when Susan called her.

My ex-boyfriend Eric joked that when he heard, he was in a hotel room in Budapest whacking off—and thinking of me. He was always saying sweet things like that.

None of them, not even the best journalists among them, thought to check out the story before spreading it. Why? “Even though I was stunned by the news,” Claire explained to me later, “I wasn't surprised. Do you understand?”

Yeah, I understood. Most everyone said the same thing. Because of my history of getting into jams, my premature death was all too easy to believe, kind of like the Clinton intern story.

It would have been fine if the story had merely spread among my friends, but unfortunately, the story made our air, and things went horribly wrong. If you were watching the 3:00
P.M.
(EDST) news on ANN that particular July day, you, too, heard anchorman Sawyer Lash announce that ANN executive and reporter Robin Jean Hudson had died in an explosion at an abandoned warehouse in Long Island City, just a few weeks shy of her fortieth birthday.

“Correspondent George Jerome looks at Hudson's all-too-brief life,” was the last thing Lash said before the tape rolled on what was supposed to be my prepackaged video obituary.

But instead of seeing and hearing a report on the life of a TV newswoman, our viewers got something else, and the shit really hit the fan.

A bit of background: Obits of famous people and ANN television personalities are kept on file to be run quickly to air when required. A few years ago, my friend and producer Louis Levin and I put together a fake obit for me, which shows me Gump-like in a number of different historical scenes. For example, it has me leading an infantry charge at the Battle of the Bulge, jetting off to Scandinavia to pick up my Nobel prizes for literature and peace with Sam Shepard on my arm, floating outside
Mir
with a big wrench and a hammer, and so forth, all while dressed in a minidress and high heels, my red hair coiffed 1940s-style to enhance my already remarkable resemblance to Rita Hayworth in her scene-stealing, glove-peeling performance in
Gilda
. This is followed by testimonials from folks like Joe, the retired autoworker who, when asked what Robin Hudson did for him, says, “Cured my male itch.”

The idea was, when I die, this tape would be on the obit shelf instead of my real obit, and would run on ANN worldwide, and I'd get the last laugh.

But that isn't what ANN viewers saw.

Louis Levin was one of the few people at ANN who did not hear of my death. Every now and then, Louis would update the tape, which is what he was doing when news came through that I had died.

He was hiding out in a back edit room, adding an improved version of the scene where millions of grief-stricken North Koreans in Pyongyang are prostrate before gigantic pictures of me.

So when the playback assistant went to the shelf to retrieve my obit, it wasn't there. Louis had it.

Stunned by the news and in a hurry, the playback kid mistakenly grabbed the wrong tape, and though Sawyer Lash announced my death in the intro, what the world saw was the obit of Robert Huddon, a deputy secretary of state and a close personal friend of the president. If you're up on the news, you may recall that Huddon was involved in delicate Mideast peace negotiations at the time, and that word of his death sent shock waves throughout the world and beyond, all the way to the White House. The oil markets went nuts. Huddon himself had to appear in public on live TV to put the rumors to rest. Even the president had a comment, which we have since added to my fake obit.

“Robert Huddon is not dead,” the president says with visible relief. “A reporter by the name of Robin Hudson is dead.”

That's the only
real
moment in the whole obit, but it's my favorite. I just get a kick out of that, the leader of the free world saying my name on national television. I'm kind of starstruck that way. It's the small-town girl in me, I guess. Sometimes, late at night, when I'm feeling lonely and insignificant, I pop a dub of that sound bite into my VCR and play it over and over.

Before the day was done, ANN would retract the story of Huddon's death, and of mine, and report that I wasn't dead, I'd been revived and heavily sedated and was in critical condition, albeit heavily bandaged.

I'm the girl behind the Robert Huddon mistaken death story, which shook the world for a moment. Ten years from now, someone may ask you that in a trivia game. I'm also the girl who broke the Last Manly Man case wide open, but as is too often the case, I didn't get my due credit for that. No biggie. All I did was save the world, sort of. But I'm not too bitter about not getting full credit, since I haven't had to take my due blame for a lot of bad things in this lifetime.

My name, as I said, is Robin Jean Hudson. Born after
Sputnik
and before color TV transmission, I am divorced and I live on Manhattan's Lower East Side with my cat, Louise Bryant, who is now retired from a lucrative career in cat food ads. Until recently, I was the boss, and a reporter, in the Special Reports Unit at the All News Network, not to be confused with the new Investigative Reports Unit, which does
60 Minutes
—style pieces for its weekly newsmagazine show.

Special Reports does three- to five-minute rating grabbers that run repeatedly during regular news programming. Our content tended toward the sensational and absurd, e.g., evangelical Christian preachers who claim to have been abducted by UFOs; and low-grade consumer fraud, e.g., the shady side of the hairpiece industry. But we tried to do these pieces intelligently and with wit and we tried to do a few serious-minded pieces too. That had been harder to do once Investigative Reports, headed by former foreign correspondent Reb “Rambo” Ryan and his shrewd and sneaky Cardinal Richelieu, Solange Stevenson, came on the scene and stole every good hard news story out from under us, leaving us with the fillers and the features. All this at a time when I was trying this new thing, Taking the High Road.

But back to reports of my death, which, as Mark Twain once said of his own, were exaggerated.

The whole mess began in late spring, when I went barhopping with Jack Jackson, the CEO and fearless leader of Jackson Broadcasting and its subsidiary networks.

Every once in a blue moon, Jack comes down from his penthouse to Keggers, the bar in the basement of the Jackson Broadcasting Building, to mix with his employees. After hanging out for a while, he picks one employee to go barhopping with, and that fateful spring night it was me. We got really drunk, hit some of his favorite joints, then some of mine, all the while talking about two things: men and women.

We both had a lot to say and ask on the subject. Jack was one of the sponsors of a big women's festival being held in the city that summer and was to give an “important speech” at the end of it. He was trying to “figger out wimmen,” he said, and though he didn't say it, he meant one woman specifically—actress Shonny Cobbs, who had recently dumped him after a two-year relationship. The man was a canny visionary who slew dragons daily in the business world, but he couldn't figure out how to keep his woman happy.

As for me, some primal urge was pushing me to figure out men and work it out so I wouldn't end up spending my dotage alone, except for the male nurse I'd pay to change my diapers and listen to my life story. Did I mention I was about to turn forty? I figured if I couldn't make this man thing work for me now, when I was still young and energetic, it was only going to get harder down the road as my various internal organs started to shut down.

But I had another agenda: impress Jack and save my Special Reports Unit from the budget ax, as its fate at that time was iffy.

For hours and hours that spring night, Jack and I asked questions about each other's gender, exchanged loopy theories, admitted sexist notions, and drank a lot.

Sometime around 6:00
A.M.
, at a gritty, unlicensed waterfront bar on West Street that caters to men coming off the night shift, I suggested a series on the Man of the Future, looking at how far men had come and where they might evolve to in the future. In this context, I was sure, I could pinpoint exactly what it was that made a man a man, beyond anatomy, through all times and all fashions. I would pinpoint that mysterious quality good men have that makes them so attractive, despite how annoying they sometimes are. Whenever I try to give this mysterious thing a name—call it courage, strength, whatever—I think of a bunch of women with the same quality. This thing is something I find only in men, and not in all men.

BOOK: The Last Manly Man
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