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Last Heartthrob 03

Did My Heart Skip a Beat?

 

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 slightly.

“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.”

“Editorial assistant job?” Forbes 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.

_

Episode Three

FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE GUNSHOTS

When Walter Forbes got back from lunch, he called the production company where the man who’d employed Kahane as an editorial assistant worked.

Kahane’s employer had never heard of him.

Someone was lying, but when it came to weighing the veracity of Hollywood types against résumés, Forbes couldn’t choose sides.

 

He didn’t spend much time going over Kahane’s morning or his afternoon. Kahane arrived at the office Monday at 7:02 A.M. There was nothing on his schedule except to fine-tune the Sternwood spots. The day quickly devolved, phantom crises erupted, unscheduled meetings filled in the gaps, and he could only truly get started at the end of the official workday.

Forbes decided that he would stay downtown as long as Kahane stayed at the office. The private eye’s work ethic was just as strong as the ad man’s. Besides, he could monitor the display of Kahane’s laptop on his handheld while watching the football game at RiverRock.

 

Between 5:30 P.M., when the hourly staffers headed for the elevator, and 9:00 P.M., when most of the rest of the staff cleared out, Kahane sat in his cubicle banging away at his laptop, pausing, banging away again, feverishly timing and polishing each of the spots. He incorporated notes from Shibano, Shelby Lydecker, and one or two queries from someone named Barton, presumably the director, as they’d come via Cristina Wickman. He uploaded everything to the cloud, IM’d Lydecker and powered down.

 

Forbes got up and paid his tab when his handheld indicated that Kahane’s screen had gone dark and that he was in motion, heading for the elevators. But the voice activation alert on his handheld also vibrated, so as Forbes hit the men’s room, he put in his earpiece to listen.

Cristina Wickman ambushed Kahane before he made his escape. “Not so fast. You have to wish me a happy birthday.”

“Happy birthday, Cristina,” Kahane said.

“We’re going to The Micronesia to drink umbrella drinks and eat unhealthy food.”

“Oh, that’s great. That’s great, Cristina. Have fun.”

“You’re coming,” she insisted.

“I need to do a lot of polishing at home before tomorrow’s meeting.”

“Where’s your laptop?”

It took Kahane half a second longer to answer than it should have. “I sent the files to my home computer.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Now Shelby Lydecker spoke. “Liar. The spots are brilliant. I think that you should come.”

“You couldn’t possibly have read the changes.”

“Details,” pooh-poohed Lydecker.

“Karaoke is my kryptonite,” protested Tom.

“That’s why you’re coming,” replied Cristina. “It’s not easy turning thirty-nine. I’m not going to suffer alone. How will I know I’m having fun unless there’s someone there to suffer more than I do?”

“Okay, you talked me into it. I’ll go home and change and see you there in about an hour.”

“You’re not a good liar.”

“Yes, I am.”

 

Walter stepped out to the MAX stop and called Anna on his GPS-free handheld, an acceptable risk for such a non-mission-critical communication. “So the subject is done with work, but he’s socializing with some co-workers. Looks like I’m going to The Micronesia for karaoke. Care to join me?”

She made an ugh sound. “I’ll pass. Knock yourself out.”

 

There was no question of missing The Micronesia, the crown jewel of Interstate Avenue, the pre-Interstate Highway System main drag. Its gaudy neon sign was visible for blocks. Its faux Polynesian interior was as subtle as its sign: seahorse lamps, Chinese junks, nets of balloons. Cristina Wickman and her party filled one of the spacious corner booths at the far end of the karaoke lounge. Forbes listened, and occasionally chuckled as the members of her party tried to outdo themselves in ordering the most cleverly named drink: Fandango, Straw Hat Sally, Bahama Mama. They ordered the kind of food you might order on a dare. Between the music and the room’s acoustics, the sound away from Kahane’s smartphone was muddy, but he could still get the gist of things. During his college days, especially post football injury, Forbes got plenty of practice listening to people in bars.

It looked like serious business when Cristina and her crew pored over the thick notebooks of song titles and surreptitiously filled out their slips of paper. Forbes began shooting photos as he would throughout the evening, pretending they were selfies.

When Cristina brought the song slips up, the KJ announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, especially gentlemen, give it up for birthday girl Cristina performing Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman.’”

This wasn’t Cristina’s first thirty-ninth birthday party. After the creative meeting on Friday, Forbes marked her in the allies of Kahane camp, and did enough checking on her to know it was her third. She was tall, though she took much of her height from the heels of her designer shoes. She had boyish blonde hair and dark eyes, a tad Mediterranean? She dressed like a high-powered professional, but with her short, tight skirt, it was hard not to notice her legs, which went all the way to the floor. Her voice wasn’t up to Shania Twain’s, but the rest of her was.

After a few others, the young woman with magenta hair and beret scooted out from beside Tom when the KJ called, “Kathie with an I-E.” The sleuth pegged her as the young woman out to schmooze Tom mentioned in the call to Corky. The relative youngster performed Miley Cyrus’s over-the-top, angst-ridden “Wrecking Ball.” Kathie was cute and perky and trying to flirt with Tom, but he was racing Cristina in downing a Sailor’s Tattoo. Forbes tried to put himself in Tom’s shoes. At thirty-three, maybe Tom had outgrown bright young things who expressed themselves through ironic hair color, signature hats, and power ballads.

Forbes dropped his speculation when the KJ called Frank. He got up from his corner booth and performed his campy rendition of the ironic sports anthem “YMCA.”

The KJ called, “Next up is Tom and Shelby with The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me.’”

Shelby Lydecker got up and motioned for Tom to do so, but Tom wouldn’t budge. Instead, he shook his head and said, “Not drunk enough!”

Shelby Lydecker feigned a pout, but the younger man at the table who’d been sitting next to Lydecker volunteered. As the music started, Lydecker corrected, “That’s Bradford and Shelby.”

Forbes had classified Shelby, also an ally of Kahane, as mentor. That was a creative director’s job. But Shelby also offered fashion advice to Tom, and, apparently, to the well-dressed, well-groomed Bradford.

As Forbes watched Shelby, he saw a man approaching sixty in a way that made sixty an appealing destination. He didn’t try to dress young. He didn’t get face lifts. He didn’t color his hair. But he wore elegant, hand-tailored clothes and smiled with great character and authority. He wasn’t self-conscious about taking on the role of a waitress in a cocktail bar. His haircut was neither trendy nor a throwback but a look you might try in vain to describe to your barber. He was the coolest man in the room.

A large belter of a woman took a stab at some Aretha Franklin next, but in the middle of the number, Forbes’s view was obstructed by a pair of breasts.

“May I join you?”

As Forbes looked up, he took in the face of a striking, red-haired woman wearing a simple high-necked sleeveless top and jeans. He had the presence of mind not to embarrass himself by saying, “I’m a married man,” but just barely. The karaoke lounge was practically full with patrons who had migrated over after the game, and Forbes had a booth to himself.

“Be my guest,” he said.

She sat across from him and sipped her drink, her eyes scanning the room. Forbes figured she’d be gone as soon as she found the people she was meeting. He sipped his on-duty session beer and noticed that the rum-infused Tom looked more relaxed. Kathie appeared to have noticed too. She was sitting very close to him.

The KJ announced another name and song, and the red-haired woman took another quick swig of her drink before getting up to claim the mike. The speakers thumped a slow, insistent heartbeat and the woman asked the musical question:

Did my heart skip a beat the night I met you?

Forbes hadn’t caught her name.

Across that crowded room, I found your face.

She sang very tentatively at first, eyes fixed on the monitor. That she sang at all barely registered with most people in the room. They kept talking over her. But Forbes noticed that Tom was riveted.

Was my heart whispering, this is no stranger,

Warning me, there was a danger

I might never know your loving embrace?

Something about the tune was familiar to Forbes. There was something familiar about the woman, too, but he couldn’t place her either.

Be still you foolish heart, do not excite me.

Remember how we break with each romance.

It was a very old-fashioned torch song, and the words could easily have come off as corny, but the tempo was slow, and the arrangement sincere. And the singer’s confidence seemed to build as she shifted her gaze from the monitor to the room, eventually fixing on Tom Kahane, who watched with such an odd, sad smile.

But when your eyes met mine, my poor heart lost all

sense of time.

At that exact moment, the room hushed. Forbes couldn’t know whether others felt the electricity as he did. He was far more focused on Tom than most or all the other patrons.

Would loving you be

such a crime? I knew I must take that chance.

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.

When the last phrase came around again, Tom and the woman sang the words to each other.

would loving you be

such a crime? I knew I must take that chance.

Forbes noted that Tom’s off-key voice explained his failure to submit a song slip to the KJ. As the final notes faded, Tom and the singer kissed, neither timidly nor drunkenly. The place erupted. Forbes turned up the volume to eavesdrop.

“Thanks for the assist, Tom,” she said.

“My pleasure–” His lips started to form a name, but nothing came out.

“Madeleine.”

“Right,” he added, as though he should have known. “Excuse the near rhyme.”

“What?”

Cristina, returning from the Gulls room, came up to them and said, “Well, I see that I don’t have to introduce you two. When did you get in, Madeleine?”

“Around nine-thirty. Happy birthday, by the way. I got your text. Didn’t see you when I came in. Thought you’d made an early night of it.”

All this happened very quickly as the next singer approached the microphone. They started back in the direction of Cristina’s party.

“Join us?” invited Cristina.

“Love to, but I’ve been up since five-thirty Chicago time. Want to be fresh for the meeting tomorrow.” Madeleine turned to Tom. “I love what you’ve come up with.” She gave Tom's hand a squeeze and glanced back at him as she made her exit. She smiled at Forbes and mouthed “thank you” on the way out.

Back at their booth, Cristina said, “I didn’t know you worked with Madeleine Barton before.”

“Who?” asked Tom.

“Madeleine Barton. She’s here to direct the AutoMan Empire spots.”

Tom didn’t respond.

“Hello,” Cristina said. “Ground control to Major Tom.”

“I could have sworn…” muttered Tom.

“You could have sworn what?”

Tom shook his head. The waitress came by with another round of drinks. Forbes hadn’t noticed Kathie’s disappearance. Maybe she had to be home at a certain time. Maybe she was jealous. Tom’s awkward moment in the spotlight was over, but the P. I. registered the very focused expression on his face. His subject looked as though he’d just emerged from a trance and was trying to process what had happened. Forbes snapped a final photo to document that look.

FOUR DAYS BEFORE THE GUNSHOTS

Walter Forbes reported that he’d been unable to confirm Kahane’s editorial assistant job but could dig further if needed.

At the Micronesia, Tom Kahane had initially been reluctant to socialize with his co-workers but proved to be a good sport about it and eventually relaxed.

He was about to write that Kahane might be a bit of an amorous or a romantic under the influence of alcohol, but then he looked at the pictures that he had taken of Madeleine Barton and Kahane together.

He remembered the way Barton asked whether she could join him. She was an attractive woman. Attractive women usually behaved with a sense of entitlement. They made it seem that you were rude to inconvenience them by taking a whole booth to yourself. Barton didn’t. That’s what had made him squirm. He’d gotten that squirmy feeling once or twice from upscale prostitutes when working conventions. Probably, come to think of it, once. But, Barton was no prostitute.

He recalled the way she’d sipped her drink and looked around the room. She was probably looking for Cristina Wickman, whom she knew. Or maybe she was looking for Tom Kahane from the very beginning. Maybe she had the same trouble recognizing him from his old publicity photo as Forbes had. One thing was sure. Once she had him in her sights, she didn’t relent. What Forbes had witnessed was a flat out seduction. If she’d laid her eyes on him the way she had on Tom Kahane, he wasn’t sure he could have resisted doing what the ad man did.

When he attached the photo of the couple dancing, the image evoked a memory the way that isolated images often do. He’d seen this couple dance before. He couldn’t think where it would have been. He’d attended a lot of high profile weddings in his private security capacity, so he knew it would only drive him crazy trying to remember.

The big question was, why would she want to seduce this guy? Forbes couldn’t even figure out what Sternwood saw in him. He recognized that he was going down the rabbit hole and typed that Cristina Wickman introduced Kahane to the woman directing the AutoMan Empire spots.

In looking through the photos, he noticed another thing that he hadn’t last night. In a shot taken after Kahane returned to the table, Shelby Lydecker seemed to be glaring at him from the corner of the frame. The lighting was awful, but was that an expression of jealousy on his face?

 

Forbes filed his daily report earlier than usual and would have turned his attention to other work, but he noticed Kahane’s computer screen displayed crudely animated storyboards of the Sternwood campaign.

According to Kahane’s schedule, he was in a meeting with Cristina Wickman, Shelby Lydecker, Madeleine Barton, and Paul Shibano to go over the spots. Forbes decided to listen in on the read-through.

Kahane surprised Forbes again. He was uncanny at mimicking the various Portland celebrities as he read through the spots with Lydecker and Wickman. The online videos were designed for social media dissemination. They were funnier than anything Forbes had seen on TV because they didn’t follow the constraints of TV advertising. They ran different lengths. There were four letter words. Some of them were not safe for work. Barton added some notes to make one or two of them even raunchier. Paul Shibano’s unfamiliar voice cut through the laughter.

“So this is how you sell cars in Chicago?”

After what Forbes took as a nervous pause, Wickman answered, “Ms. Barton is here to shoot our campaign.”

“Of course, she is,” countered Shibano. “I just asked a simple question. You are from Chicago, aren’t you?”

 

Forbes was surprised that neither Lydecker nor Wickman, the allies of Kahane, jumped in here, but he didn’t doubt that Barton gave the impression she could handle this herself.

“Yes,” answered Barton. “And, no, Chicago auto dealerships aren’t running campaigns like this yet.”

“Or maybe they are, and the spots run so infrequently that you just haven’t seen them.”

“When Ms. Wickman spoke with me on Friday, I called one of my agency friends to pull some ads for me. For most auto campaigns, the television and print rotation is still the lion’s share of the budget, but social, when quantifiable, appears to be pulling two-to-three times its weight when it’s used.”

“I wasn’t aware that you were a media expert as well,” said Shibano.

“Clearly, I’m not. I was only looking to see what I could add to the conversation creatively. By weighting social as you have in this campaign, you’re showing a grasp of the market that they’ll be copying in Chicago in six month’s time or a year. I have to say, if there were more COOs like yourself, willing to break the mold when the numbers scream for them to do so on behalf of their clients, I wouldn’t have to leave Chicago as often to do first-rate work,” Barton answered.

Pause.

“I have another meeting,” replied Shibano.

 

Forbes grinned and placed Madeleine Barton firmly in the allies of Kahane column. But he was curious how he would weight this exchange in vetting Kahane. It wasn’t that he thought Shibano was right. The spots were hilarious, and he had no doubt that they would do whatever videos on social media did. But they were risky. And Philip Sternwood was no risk taker. Did Sternwood really know what kind of campaign he was buying? He would report Shibano’s objections.

 

When Barton accepted Kahane’s lunch invitation, Forbes, figuring this surveillance gig could well be over with his next report, decided to make it a plus-one. They all took advantage of the mild temperature, it was sixty-six degrees, to dine al fresco. Forbes listened as he followed at an appropriate distance. The audio quality from Kahane’s smartphone microphone wasn’t the greatest outdoors, but he applied the appropriate filters, and Madeleine Barton was close enough to Tom for him to get most of what was said.

“So what was that little interlude with Paul Shibano? Or is it something I don’t want to know about?” asked Madeleine.

“Ah, there’s a little bad blood between us. I made a mistake once.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I left H-L-S,” he said, with a wince. “Shibano gave me my first copywriting gig when he was running a solo shop and Sternwood Auto Group was his bread-and-butter account. He wouldn’t let me do the commercials, just the newspaper stuff, so I wrote in my spare time.”

“He had to expect that from someone with your talent.”

Tom didn’t acknowledge the compliment. “When Shibano merged with Hunt & Lydecker, Cristina took one look at my résumé, saw that I’d worked with David Oakley, a–”

“I know who David Oakley is,” said Madeleine.

“Cristina and Shelby figured if they let me write commercials, they might be able to get David to direct them. And they were right. Shibano took that as a snub. Then I left, which pissed him off. Then Shelby invited me back, which pissed him off. So he’s riding me a little. Shelby says he’ll let up once I prove myself.”

“Why did you come back?”

“I’m suddenly famished!” replied Tom.

 

Forbes was disappointed. Apparently, Madeleine wouldn’t be privy to the Hollywood horror stories Tom had shared with Sternwood.

 

Madeleine and Tom picked up some lunch at an Indian cart near SW Ninth and Washington Street and walked over to Pioneer Courthouse Square to eat. The City’s Living Room hosted a cornucopia of ethnic festivals, farmers markets, community events of every stripe. The MAX went by on either side. Steps led down to the central area where a local female jazz vocalist started performing “Where or When,” the old Rogers & Hart chestnut.

They sat on the steps of the square to eat, enjoying their food and listening. Forbes grabbed a burrito and sat where he could observe both the couple and the vocalist. At the end of the song, Madeleine burst out laughing.

“Okay, I’m going to say it. Do you promise not to think I’m crazy and hire someone else?”

“I promise we won’t hire someone else.”

“As we walked over here, I had this really odd feeling. I mean, not just that I knew how to get here, because I did, but I knew the buildings. A lot of the faces look familiar. And I’ve never been to Portland before.”

Tom took another bite of his samosa.

She continued. “And last night, I could have sworn that–”

 

Forbes noted that Madeleine used the same phrase Tom had used.

 

Tom chewed long enough so that there weren’t gobs of food coming out of his mouth. “Me too. Ever do time in the City of Angels?”

“Yes.”

“Could have run into me in L.A. You see anyone looking like The Dude in The Big Lebowski shuffling down the aisles at Ralph’s in his flip-flops?”

“I would have–” she said.

Forbes lost the rest as a MAX rolled by behind them. Fortunately, so did Tom, who cupped his hand to his ear and leaned closer.

“I would have remembered you,” she repeated.

The performance wrapped up, and the musicians began putting their instruments away.

Tom asked, “Are you coming back to the office or–”

“I’m going to check on a package delivery at the hotel desk, and then I’m going to work from my room. The desk clerk isn’t as likely to call a last minute meeting.”

“You got that right.”

They started to walk back toward the hotel at a leisurely pace. As they passed the coffee bar, Madeleine gave Tom’s arm a little tug to distance them from a mime who’d drawn a small crowd.

“Mimes creep me out,” said Madeleine.

“Me too,” said Tom.

 

Forbes liked them both a little more for that. The couple drifted back into a discussion of the Sternwood spots as they walked, which Forbes would report to Sternwood, but it wasn’t all business. They were on the same page. You didn’t get far in Forbes’s profession without being a student of body language. He noted as they walked, that once or twice Madeleine brushed up against him. She was sure-footed. She knew what she was doing. Tom’s hand accidentally brushed against her once or twice, too.

 

“Ever listen to George Bell?” asked Tom.

She drew a blank. He filled her in. “George spoke with this remote viewer one time.”

“Remote viewer?”

“Top secret CIA psychic project. Russians were working on it. Congress cut the funding.”

“Okay,” she said, sounding unsure where this was going.

Tom's smartphone started playing its “Hey Now!” ringtone. “Just a second.” He took it out, and Madeleine continued to walk ahead. “Yes, Bradford. I remember the Geminos strategy meeting is at one-thirty.”

He caught up with Madeleine. “So the remote viewer met with this Russian mentalist who could remember the names of people who’d been in his audience a week ago or two weeks ago, but he couldn’t remember where he put his keys. You’ll eventually remember where we met; or I will.”

They were back at the hotel. She stopped, tilted her head to see him from a different angle, and said, “Have you always been this weird?”

“After Cristina’s party last night my head feels like a bag of hammers.”

“No, I get the hangover. Have you always been this weird?”

He laughed. “Oh, this is nothing. I used to be much weirder. This is me trying to be normal.”

She nodded as though her question had been answered. “Do me a favor. When I take you to dinner tonight, don’t try so hard. That’s why I’m having trouble remembering you.”

“What makes you think I want to have dinner with you?”

She laughed. “I only ask once.”

“Okay,” he said, “But only if you take me to my favorite restaurant.”

“What is your favorite restaurant?”

“You don’t remember?”

She said, “You’re on. Can you be ready by seven-thirty?”

“I think I can get a permission slip if I call it a business dinner.”

“Where do you live?”

“You don’t know?”

She kicked him in the shin. She wasn’t shy at all.

“Ow. Northwest 14th and Kearney. You just…” He paused to assemble a set of directions in his mind, but he seemed confused.

“I’ll find it. Seven-thirty then.”

 

Forbes returned to his office. He called Anna to tell her he’d be out again this evening. He didn’t mention that he was watching a seduction in progress. Madeleine Barton wanted something from Tom Kahane beyond this campaign. Tom seemed willing to take the bait. Forbes could see why she made a good director. She knew what she was doing, and she had all the tools needed to persuade. What Forbes couldn’t foresee were the dark secrets from out of their pasts that were about to surface, or how everything would change once they did.

NEXT ON LAST HEARTTHROB:

“I already told her that you only let me write commercials because I knew David Oakley,” said Kahane.

“Well, that’s one way of putting it,” said Wickman. She turned to Madeleine. “When we realized that we were wasting the screenwriter of David Oakley’s short film Paging Mr. Kaplan on classified ads, Shelby and I decided to put him to work.”

Tom turned to Madeleine too. “I’m sure every copywriter you’ve ever met has a screenplay somewhere in the cloud. How many do you know who were contestants on Hollywood Survivalist?”

Barton laughed. “What?”

“It’s an interesting game,” said Kahane. “The objective is to keep at least one dollar in your pocket and maintain your sanity until the buzzer goes off. Here are the rules."

---

Episode Three Extras

Episode Four: Hollywood Endings

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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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