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Last Heartthrob 02

Out of the Past

 

Start at Episode 01

PREVIOUSLY ON LAST HEARTTHROB:

That’s when Walter Forbes heard the gunshots.

He had solved a case no one had asked him to solve: a case no one wanted him to solve, a case no one knew or cared about. No one would benefit. The cost, so far, was a couple of lives. When that door, the second on the left, opened, maybe it would cost a couple more. Who could say what the murderer would do when he saw Forbes standing there? He took his gun in hand, fixed his eye on the doorway, and waited.

He wondered if another investigator who’d seen what he’d seen and heard what he’d heard could have put the pieces together in time.

Philip Sternwood got down to business. “So there’s this new guy at H-L-S Advertising, Tom Kahane. I’d like you to keep an eye on him.”

“I’m sure I can verify his actual timesheet versus H-L-S billing,” Forbes suggested.

Sternwood winced.

“Or…I could cover the guy twenty-four/seven if you like, but…”

“That might be the way to go on this one,” said Sternwood. “When it comes to The Company, his social life might be just as instructive as his professional. If he checks out, it won’t hurt to have someone I can trust closer to the center of things.”

Kahane was listening to something on his smartphone when he decided to shave a few steps off his trip by cutting across the street between a couple of parked SUVs. A cyclist swerved to avoid him, passing close enough to ensnare the headphone cord. Catching the phone before it went crashing to the street and smithereens, the guy on the bike quickly applied his brakes...

“Check it as a favor to me? I don’t want to ride around all day feeling guilty.”

Kahane smiled and unlocked his phone engaging its search for the nearest cell phone tower. “Works fine.”

The transmitter in the back of Walter Forbes's van picked up all the identifying information he would need to hack Tom Kahane’s smartphone. Forbes would now be able to access everything on his phone. He would be able to access any computer Kahane connected it to. Tomorrow morning, the phone’s proximity to Kahane’s work computer would give him the information he needed to hack that.

Episode Two

EIGHT DAYS BEFORE THE GUNSHOTS

While Anna relished the days that she got to work from home, Walter Forbes enjoyed the routine of preparing for work, getting on his bike, and riding downtown. There was so much about his job that was solitary, especially when doing surveillance, that he enjoyed mingling with the masses.

Today, Forbes rode downtown to the outdoor outfitter by Kahane’s building to retrieve his rented van (and pay the exorbitant overnight parking fee), dropped his hacking equipment back at his office, returned the van, and biked back to continue his assignment.

His office was just what you’d expect a private investigator’s office to be. The name on the frosted glass door read:

WALTER T. FORBES

PRIVATE INVESTIGATION & INFORMATION SECURITY

No elevated train roared by his window, but the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail train hummed along past the historic downtown Thomas Mann building. It wasn’t named for the German author of The Magic Mountain, but the east windows faced Mount Hood, which appeared on sunny days and disappeared when it rained. Forbes had a small anteroom without a receptionist and an inner office. He met with his clients in the anteroom because he couldn’t guarantee what would appear on the monitors in his inner office at any given time. There was serious computing power in a cooled converted office supply room. The cloud was for fools.

Maybe he chose a somewhat romantic office because the private eye business was unromantic. Over the years, his work had evolved into serving people concerned about their privacy, people who wanted to keep others honest, or sometimes both. It wasn’t a good-guy/bad-guy thing.

On the information security side, it was always a balance between privacy and convenience. Forbes helped his clients to the degree they’d let him. But there was a tradeoff between instant access to the nearest five-star sushi restaurant and letting the world know where you were at every moment. Cell phone calls, emails, and text messages were speedy, as long as you didn’t mind everyone in the world having access to their contents.

 

When Forbes opened up his browser to check Tom Kahane’s smartphone activity, he discovered that the ad man had placed a call to “Corky” at 11:38 P.M. He clicked on the number. Unlisted. With a few more keystrokes, he had Corky Marzzone. He put on his noise-blocking headphones, pressed play, and the background check commenced.

 

“You got Corky,” said a cigarette-smoked woman’s voice.

Tom began. “Thanks for nearly getting me fired.”

“Wait. What?”

“So two days ago, this new art girl, magenta hair, jaunty beret, comes over to schmooze me.”

“Hold on. I’m mad at you,” Corky said.

“She wanted to congratulate me on the Sternwood pitch.”

 

Pause. Tom Kahane was unmarried. He shared details about his work life with whomever this Corky Marzzone was. Forbes made a note that he would have to vet her. Play.

 

Corky interrupted. “I couldn’t find anyone to go to the concert. I don’t mind going on my own, but it infuriates me the way you let them push you around.”

Tom said, “It was already six o’clock, and I was trying to call you to cancel, sifting the crap on my desk to find my phone.”

“You don’t listen to me.”

“I take full responsibility for the late cancellation. I’m sorry.”

“So it’s okay for you to intentionally blow me off? How is that better?”

“That way I’m not being pushed around. I have zero seconds to spend on this girl–”

“Young woman,” corrected Corky.

“I misspoke. So I told her I was cleaning out my desk. I’d just been fired.”

“Such a dick.”

“What?”

 

Forbes heard her just fine. He smiled, and typed “dick” without pausing. He also wrote “Brooklyn?” as Kahane’s trace accent.

 

“Go on,” she sighed.

“Anyway, the clock’s ticking, you’re about to head out, so I break down and use my desk phone, but I don’t have your number programmed so I call you through the switchboard.”

“You said I nearly got you fired.”

“When I stand up and turn around, I see my suit jacket hanging there. I wore a suit for the SAG pitch. My phone is in my jacket, but I never wear a jacket.”

“I - am - get-ting - sleepy.”

“When I go to retrieve my phone, it rings. I think it’s you calling to bite my head off–”

“When have I done that?”

“But it’s Philip Sternwood. He tells me to come to Gladstone in the morning. What am I going to say? I assume Sternwood scheduled a meeting with Shibano, but when I arrive there next morning, it’s just me.”

Corky sounded shocked. “You didn’t keep that hit-and-run bit in your presentation, did you?”

“You laughed so hard!”

“You’re insane! You deserve to be fired!”

 

Pause. Forbes wrote down the sequence of events. Philip Sternwood had been in a hit-and-run accident several years ago. The eyewitnesses recognized his face but confused him with one of his competitors, resulting in some miswritten newspaper accounts and all-around embarrassment. He shook his head. It took either a lot of balls or a total lack of judgment to mention such an event in an advertising pitch. Philip Sternwood met with Kahane privately and apparently decided it was balls. After that meeting, Sternwood decided to vet him for the position with The Company. Play.

 

“Come on!” said Kahane.

Corky tried the voice of reason. “Okay. One: people who get nailed for hit-and-run accidents don’t like to be reminded about it. Two: Paul Shibano was responsible for Sternwood’s advertising at the time. Three–”

Tom jumped back in. “Three: it’s now H-L-S’s account not Shibano’s, and if Philip Sternwood wants to see some pitches, chances are he isn’t looking for the same-old, same-old. But that’s not why he calls me. He wants to know why I’m back at H-L-S, so I tell him some Hollywood horror stories. But hold on, there’s more.”

“You mean the part where you try to blame this on me? I’m intrigued.”

“I get back from Gladstone and Shibano wants to see me immediately. So I go down there and, of course, he’s busy. I tell Bradford to ring me when he’s ready, and he’s all like ‘puh-lease have a sea-tah.’ Sternwood never calls Shibano about the meeting at all. Shibano doesn’t know where the hell I am so he checks my phone log and sees that I called you at the agency–”

Corky gasped. “And he thought you were taking the account across the street?”

“Apoplectic! I had to explain that you’re a friend, that you’re a composer not a creative director, that you’re only freelancing.”

 

Pause. Forbes was grateful to Kahane for the exposition on Corky Marzzone. Subjects weren’t always so cooperative. He jotted down some notes. Play.

 

“See, I told you not to go back there,” Corky said. “Shibano’s never going to trust you. It’s no different from the movie business.”

“It’s entirely different,” Tom countered. “Out there I couldn’t trust anyone. I can’t help it if Shibano doesn’t trust me. I’m loyal.”

“I wouldn’t want the Chief Operating Officer monitoring my computer and logging my calls.”

 

Pause. Forbes made a note to see what existing spy software was on Kahane’s computer before he started peeking in files himself. He also noted that Shibano didn’t trust Kahane. That could be a deal breaker. Shibano had handled the Sternwood Auto Group account for ages. Play.

 

“Everybody does that,” said Tom.

“With employees they’re looking to fire.”

“I got you a bobble-head.” Tom threw both Corky and Forbes.

“What!?”

“When I was out at Gladstone. They delivered a new batch of Sternwood bobble-heads: the kind you stick on the dashboard or in the rear window. You’ll love it.”

She laughed. “Okay, thank you for remembering I like weird, creepy stuff.”

“You’re welcome. Who’s on George Bell tonight?”

 

Forbes smiled. George Bell was a syndicated late night radio talk show host who excelled in off-the-wall topics and had a large listenership in Canada. The show ran advertisements to buy gold, stock up on a ten-year-supply of food, and take human growth hormone supplements. It was on the same station that covered State’s football games, and the sleuth often stayed tuned when on stakeout.

 

Corky answered, “It’s some Hawaiian physician who totally recovered from stage IV bone cancer after a marrow transplant. The guy’s really great at plugging his book and teasing the next segment.”

“Is that the one where the recipient of a liver transplant from a Mexican donor signs up for a Spanish course and starts craving spicy foods?”

“You’ve heard him already?”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe they booked him again.”

“Don’t think so. Dude’s dead,” said Tom.

“Awwww! Spoiler alert!”

“Good night, Corker.”

“Kiss kiss, Tom.”

 

Forbes’s phone rang. It was Philip Sternwood. He wanted to know how the report was coming along: asked for a daily update. Could he have it by noon? The P. I. looked at his watch. He didn’t see why not.

He found it reassuring that Sternwood’s customary business sense was reasserting itself. He typed a summary of what Kahane discussed with Corky Marzzone and assigned Jane Greer to vet his confidante.

Kahane had connected his phone to his home computer overnight to sync and charge. It took Forbes a couple of minutes to hack into it. He began to piece together his subject’s work history from a résumé and tax records. Before rejoining H-L-S, Kahane was barely treading water as an “editorial consultant” to an individual. It was a mysterious job description that Kahane would have fleshed out if not returning to a former employer. More work for Jane.

Forbes read through the report before sending it securely to Sternwood at 11:55 A.M. He smiled as he stretched and went to lunch. Though he was confident that Philip Sternwood would call off the assignment as soon as he read the report, Kahane came off as a loose cannon, he had managed to offer his favorite assistant some legitimate billable hours.

 

But there were no messages from Sternwood when Forbes returned. No problem. He printed out a blueprint of the three floors H-L-S occupied in Couch Plaza so that he could keep tabs on the ad man’s movements via his phone’s GPS. He hacked Kahane’s office laptop (the company installed spy software was easily fooled) to get additional information from the computer’s microphone and camera. He put his headphones back on and followed his subject into his meeting with Shelby Lydecker, the agency’s head of creative, in his trophy corner office.

 

“Where did you get that gorgeous suit?” asked Tom, playfully.

“Milan. Armani Fatto A Mano Su Misura. A bit pricey for you,” replied Lydecker.

 

Forbes thought he detected a trace of the southern gentleman (Kentucky?) in Lydecker’s voice.

 

“I could never wear it either,” replied Kahane.

“You can never be too rich or too thin. I dressed you well enough to pass Sternwood’s inspection, didn’t I?”

“I bow to your sartorial sagacity.”

“Your hair looks like road kill this morning,” said Lydecker.

“I’m out of that crap you’re supposed to put in it.”

“Well, if you won't look after yourself, we’ll have to go short again. I’ll call my barber.”

“I can’t afford your barber,” Kahane snapped. “I was hoping to get some work done today.”

“Didn’t Shibano give you a chance to work yesterday?”

“No, but he left at five-thirty. His wife made dinner reservations.”

“What about this morning?”

 

Forbes’s view from Kahane’s laptop camera revealed an exasperated owner.

 

“Don’t ask.”

Lydecker’s phone rang. He said, “It’s Bradford,” then picked up. “Yes, sweetie?” There was a pause. “Sorry, dear, he’s all mine until two-thirty.” He hung up.

Kahane laughed.

“He hates it when I call him ‘sweetie,’” said Lydecker.

There was a knock at the door. Forbes caught only a glimpse of Cristina Wickman, head of production, as she came in and handed both men a list of Portland celebrities with social media followings that met with Sternwood Auto Group’s target market. Forbes didn’t follow much of the numbers talk. Kahane said things like “easy fit,” or “tight fit,” or “awkward” or “icky” in response to each name.

The talk turned to potential directors.

“I’ve been working to find the next David Oakley,” Wickman said.

“Has he gone missing?” asked Kahane.

 

Forbes searched the information that Jane Greer had sent him. David Oakley was the director on Kahane’s three film credits.

 

They watched the directors’ reels on Kahane’s laptop, so Forbes had the option of watching along with them, but chose to watch them watching. Lydecker and Wickman had leading man and leading lady good looks. Kahane, still disheveled, was the character player in the trio. He was also the least engaged. As they paused between each reel to discuss their likes and dislikes, Kahane remained very noncommittal. When they probed him, he said, “I’m withholding judgment.”

Lydecker said, “You know, there’s such a thing as being too flexible.”

“One, two, six,” replied Kahane, referring to the sequence of the reels in the presentation.

“Are those the ones you liked or are you choosing those because we liked them?” asked Wickman.

“Am I not allowed to like the same ones you do?”

“Any particular order?” checked Lydecker.

Kahane smiled and turned to Wickman. “Cristina, if you think I’m in such need of a creative soulmate, by all means choose one.”

She grinned back at him. “Tread carefully, Tom. I just might know you better than you think I do.”

 

Forbes would note that Kahane was comfortable leaving the directoral decision to Wickman and Lydecker, which could mean he trusted them to make the right decision or that he simply didn’t care.

 

After the Sternwood Auto Group meeting ended, Forbes divided his time combing his usual sources for IT security threats, learning exciting new exploitable hacks, and checking in with Kahane’s activities for about five minutes an hour to determine how much time to devote to his summary at the end of the day.

As it happened, Kahane wouldn’t take much time at all. He spent the rest of his afternoon in a meeting for the Geminos account, minimally engaged, but occasionally offering concurrence or dissent on aspects of the creative when questioned.

Cristina Wickman popped into that meeting at 4:30 P.M., handed him the names of the confirmed celebrities for the campaign, and asked him when he’d have the spots ready. He replied he’d have some roughs by the end of the day.

Kahane remained in the Geminos meeting until it adjourned at 5:30 P.M., then checked his text messages and agreed to meet Corky for coffee on Saturday morning around ten-thirty. He packed up his office laptop and went home.

 

Forbes noted that Kahane didn’t deliver the scripts he had promised Cristina by the end of the day. Then he suited up for his bike ride home.

 

Anna and Walter ate their dinner on their backyard patio, cracked open some India Pale Ales, and discussed their weekend entertainment options. Neither of them liked to talk about work.

They walked over to the nearby schoolyard, which offered an unobstructed view of the sunset, then returned home to pursue their individual interests. Anna knitted some socks while listening to a mystery audiobook upstairs. Walter retreated to his man cave and tuned into the sports channel.

He was still technically on duty until midnight and might have chosen to follow Tom Kahane if the GPS alert signaled that he was leaving his loft, but he’d stayed put. Forbes was happy with the way he’d spent his Friday night. Before turning in, he checked his handheld to review how his subject had spent his.

 

Kahane was very literal when it came to his interpretation of “end of the day.” According to his computer log, he’d spent hours watching videos of the celebrities on his list, switching back and forth between them and his scriptwriting software. The ad man sent a batch of scripts to Cristina Wickman at 11:59 P.M. Forbes shook his head. The ad man had kept his promise after all. He put in the hours. Maybe that’s what Sternwood had seen in him. Maybe that’s what the corporate position required.

 

At 12:01 A.M. Kahane texted Corky:

MANWOLF CREATURE SIGHTINGS ON GB TONIGHT. AWESO

“Are you coming to bed soon,” asked Anna. She was finished reading and ready to turn out the light.

Walter looked at the text message and shook his head. He toyed with listening to George Bell but thought better of it. It was after midnight and Jane Greer was now on duty. She could listen if she liked.

“Be right up,” he said.

 

Though she shared a name with the actress who played the sultry femme fatale in Jacques Tourneur’s noir classic Out of the Past, Jane Greer bore only the slightest resemblance to the siren who lured men to their doom. She wore her hair buzz-cut short and had the body of a woman working her way toward her criminology degree as a personal trainer. Her father was a Navy SEAL. Her feet were her principal mode of transportation.

When she arrived at the health club down the street from the Thomas Mann building on Monday morning, Walter Forbes worked the weight machine that allowed him to keep his upper body in shape without wreaking havoc on his lower back injury. Jane looked concerned when she saw how much he was pressing. Walter smiled. Despite the difference in their sexes, Walter felt that of all the assistants he’d employed over the years, she reminded him most of what he’d been like back in the day.

Walter’s father was a policeman, not military, but disciplined. Both he and Jane were athletic, both competitive. Both were strong. And she was a hell of a private investigator. He knew that she would one day surpass him, but he also knew that until that day came, the thought of having her nipping at his heels would help keep him sharp. His confidence in her also made it possible for him to relax on the weekend, which helped him stay sharp.

Forbes took in Jane’s sports bra and form-fitting track shorts, only a trace of sweat highlighting her well-toned arms and legs. She was not shy about her body, nor had she reason to be.

“Let me guess,” said Walter. “You ran.”

She nodded.

“What was your time?”

“You don’t want to know, old man,” she said.

Okay, thought Walter. Be that way. He upped the weight and continued to press. It would be a long time before she passed him in the upper body department.

“So you really don’t know who Corky Marzzone is?” checked Jane.

“Nope.”

Corky Marzzone led the nationally known women’s alt-rock band, The Corkscrews. She and Kahane met as sophomores attending the renowned liberal arts college in Southeast Portland. Kahane wrote lyrics for some of Marzzone’s early hits.

“So are Tom and Corky romantically involved?” Forbes asked.

Greer shook her head. “Corky brought her wife Violet when they met for coffee. She’s drop-dead gorgeous. They were all over each other. Marzzone and Kahane are just friends.”

That’s another thing Walter had in common with Jane. They both liked girls, though he never asked her whether her interest in the sex were exclusive. That would be awkward.

Greer moved to an adjacent weight machine and started doing some leg presses as she pointed out that Kahane co-wrote the lyrics for The Corkscrews’ song “Hey Now!” He likely met director David Oakley through that music video.

Walter looked over at Jane’s machine, observed the weight she was pressing, and upped his own weights.

“Editorial assistant job?” he asked.

She wasn’t sure about Kahane’s low-paying stint as an “editorial assistant.” He was living in West Hollywood. The person who paid him worked for a production company that made reality TV series, but he wasn’t a producer.

“Maybe Kahane helped with one of the shows,” she offered. “It’s just unclear how.”

This blank spot in Kahane’s résumé bugged Forbes. This was the black hole job that lost you the interview, not the one that made bosses sit up and take notice. Why hadn’t Sternwood questioned it when he reported it? He’d have to look into it.

Jane adjusted her weights. Walter liked that she appeared to be straining.

“How did the weekend go?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes. Kahane’s Saturday resembled that of any single person who worked all week and had to squeeze every errand into two days. Greer wrote down the name of the antidepressant, Proxyfloxetine, that he’d picked up at the pharmacy. Forbes had no personal thoughts on whether depression were a buck-up kind of malady or a physical illness but thought he’d pass the info along to Sternwood in case he did.

“How about his social life?” asked Walter.

He upped his weight again, and Jane did too, but they were both reaching their limit.

Saturday evening explained Kahane’s absence on social media. It took him a couple of hours to buffer a week’s worth of posts to update Corky Marzzone’s hundreds of thousands of followers on the quirky, intimate details of her life. Forbes wasn’t a fan, but recognized this skill set would be a mark in the plus column for a corporate communications director.

After that Kahane checked the Nielsen Ratings site for the week’s top-rated program, some crappy reality show, and watched it on his DVR without skipping commercials.

Before turning in, he texted Corky:

CROP CIRCLES ON GB ZZZ

“You ever listen to George Bell?” asked Walter.

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

Kahane stayed in bed until mid-Sunday afternoon. Then, he got up, looked up the number one movie at the box office, some CGI 3D kid flick, and went to see it at the downtown shopping mall multiplex.

His Sunday night sign off with Corky:

ASSAULT ON GUN RIGHTS ON GB ZZZ ZZZ.

“So he’s a total pop-culture animal,” observed Forbes.

“Oh yeah!” Greer said, emphatically and derisively.

Walter got up and thanked her. She bravely assumed the bench.

“You don’t have to–” he started.

Jane strained but couldn’t budge the weight. She started ventilating. He stood and watched. She got it to rise a couple of inches.

“Not bad,” he said, “but seriously, don’t hurt yourself.”

She wasn’t giving up. Third time she did it. Her arms shook, and she couldn’t sustain it, but she did it. She couldn’t get up right away. She was breathing too heavily.

“Now that kind of thing just isn’t smart,” Forbes admonished. “What if you’d pulled something?”

She caught her breath enough to say, “Care to try the leg lifts?”

“You know I can’t–” he started.

He saw the widening smile on her face. Of course, she knew he couldn’t.

“You don’t have to kick my ass every time,” he said.

“Who says?”

Walter just shook his head. Good thing Jane Greer was no femme fatale. If she was, she would be exceptionally fatale.

 

Walter Forbes returned to his office and composed his report on Kahane’s weekend for Philip Sternwood.

He looked up the side effects of the Proxyfloxetine. They weren’t pretty. There were news stories about lawsuits related to suicide and murder. He would include a footnote that Kahane’s antidepressant didn’t appear to be any more prone to ill-effects than any other drug in that class.

He checked Kahane’s computer log to confirm that he maintained Corky Marzzone’s social media presence on a regular basis, and looked at her posts. They were offbeat, sprinkled with George Bell, snarky, and, based on the number of comments, likes or favorites, and retweets, very popular. They also seemed, based on Forbes’s limited experience, to be more in Marzzone’s voice than Kahane’s. Is that why they’d met for coffee on Saturday morning? He noted that Kahane kept abreast of television and movie trends. He filed his report to Philip Sternwood at 11:52 A.M.

Forbes didn’t include any thoughts about Tom Kahane sleeping late on Sunday, but as he went to lunch, he couldn’t get that detail out of his mind. Maybe he was projecting here, but it gave him the impression that Kahane was running on empty. He couldn’t do his job during business hours so he had to take it home. He had coffee with his friend Corky on the weekend, but even that was work related. It was possible that he enjoyed the TV show and movie that he’d watched, but that wasn’t why he’d watched them. He listened to George Bell, but maybe that was only because he could post quirky news items for Corky.

Maybe there was no real Tom Kahane. Maybe there was just this workaholic who took on the personalities of others as needed. Forbes could imagine how these traits could be useful to a successful corporate communications director…or a sociopath.

As things stood, five days before the gunshots, there were no obvious red flags. There was nothing on Tom Kahane’s schedule that read “meet real-life femme fatale.” But before the evening was through he and Forbes would do just that.

NEXT ON LAST HEARTTHROB:

Then Tom did something Forbes couldn’t imagine was in the ad man’s wheelhouse. He rose, deliberately walked across the floor to the woman, and, as the song went into its instrumental break, stood with his arms out in an unmistakable invitation to dance. She could easily have rejected him, and he could have saved face by returning to Cristina’s booth in a drunken stagger. But she didn’t. They both flinched at the static shock when he took her in his arms. Forbes wondered if Tom were a dancing drunk, but that didn’t explain the singer whose nerves suggested sobriety.

---

Episode Two Extras

Episode Three: Did My Heart Skip a Beat?

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©2014 Bruce Cantwell

The characters and events in this serial are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

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