Last Heartthrob 10
We'll Find Out When We Get There
PART THREE: THE GRAY AREA
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE GUNSHOTS
The crew finished shooting the Sternwood AutoMan Empire spots in the wee hours of Thursday morning, and Madeleine Barton offered to drop Tom Kahane at The Kearney Lofts. They didn’t talk that much on the way back. They listened to the classical station despite the overnight Bruckner.
“I need your input on how we handle this,” Tom said.
“Well, I moved my flight to Sunday morning,” Madeleine said. “I hope that’s not a problem.”
Listening the next day, Walter Forbes understood that this was personal, not professional. He paused the recording. Tom Kahane and Madeleine Barton were off the company clock, but Walter Forbes wasn’t. Their personal relationship was unprofessional. The more intimate they became, the more likely it was that Sternwood’s name would come up in a personal, unprofessional context. At any moment Kahane could share an anecdote about how Sternwood had introduced him to Laurel Gray or share something Laurel Gray had told him about her. The purpose of vetting Tom Kahane might be catching such a slip.
“No, that’s not a problem,” Tom replied.
“You haven’t seen me in an editing room yet,” Madeleine said.
“You haven’t seen me–”
She cut him off. “–Oh, I’ve got a pretty good idea what kind of an asshole you are.”
“Yeah. That’s not what worries me.”
He thought a moment. “Well, working in different cities isn’t always ideal for–”
“That’s small stuff.”
“I never asked if you were with someone, did I?”
“You never did. Tom, I’m not spending the night.”
He didn’t answer immediately.
“Okay,” he said.
“I don’t really think it’s okay. I’d like to, but I want to get these spots finished because–regardless–I think there’s a really good possibility that we’ll work together again.”
“You look confused,” she said.
“People tell me that all the time.”
“I mean, whatever happens, you know, between us, I’d like to keep that separate if it’s possible to do that.”
She sounded even more vulnerable than she had at the restaurant?
“What worries you about us?” he asked.
She wasn’t ready to answer.
“Who told you about my two-inch penis?”
She laughed. “I guess I’ll have to get my hands on a ruler by Friday night.”
When Tom, Madeleine, Cristina and a techie hunkered down in an editing room later that morning, it was difficult for Forbes to tell what was going on with the TV spots just by listening, but he could tell what was going on between Tom and Madeleine. Cristina would occasionally tell Tom that he didn’t need to be there. As soon as she said it, Madeleine would ask him a question.
Forbes made sure to confirm that when Madeleine changed her plane reservations to return to Chicago on Sunday she paid the difference herself. In his report, he would register Wickman’s opinion that Kahane could be working on another account, acknowledge that Barton had questions for him, and let Sternwood decide if he was being over-billed.
ONE DAY BEFORE THE GUNSHOTS
When the rough-cuts of the campaign spots were ready Friday afternoon, Philip Sternwood and Jimmy Castigliane paid a visit to H-L-S to review them.
During some of his downtime, Walter Forbes had worked out the hacks for the agency’s computer networks and security cameras, partly out of curiosity in how the spots had turned out.
After viewing the spots, which portrayed the local celebrities as much sleazier car salesmen than the sleaziest car salesman could ever be, no one was happier than Jimmy Castigliane.
Half doubled with laughter, Castigliane exclaimed, “What the hell was that? Can I see that again? Anita has to see this.”
“It’s called viral,” Paul Shibano said as though he’d coined the term.
“What was that part with the flamenco dancer striptease? Was that broad completely naked? She couldn’t have been, could she?” checked Castigliane.
Sternwood smiled and said, “Guess you’ll have to watch it again to find out.”
Sternwood and Castigliane took the agency principals and Madeleine to the old school Gil’s Grill for a wrap party.
Forbes watched from his bicycle across the street as the troops emerged from the restaurant at 8:06 P.M. From his position, he could see Shelby Lydecker, Cristina Wickman, Paul Shibano, Jimmy Castigliane, and Tom Kahane leave the restaurant. All except Kahane and Lydecker slipped into the waiting stretch limo. Forbes felt a sense of uneasiness as he waited for Madeleine Barton and Philip Sternwood to come out. He thought he saw the two of them in the doorway, Sternwood blocking her exit, catching a word in private.
Tom turned to say something to Madeleine and seemed was surprised she wasn’t there.
When the two finally emerged, Barton appeared to take a deep breath. Sternwood looked a little shaky on his feet. He gestured for Barton to enter the limo.
“You know something,” she said. “I just remembered. There’s a book I want to pick up at Prowls.”
“We’ll drop you off,” Sternwood offered.
“Thanks, but I really need the exercise. Lot of sitting last two days.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Tom.
“Tom,” said Lydecker with the firmness of a boss correcting a subordinate’s misstep.
Tom and Madeleine paused and looked at him. Cristina stepped out of the limo and whispered something in Lydecker’s ear.
Lydecker adjusted his tone. “Nice work, Tom. Nice work, Ms. Barton.”
Forbes sensed that the usually cool Lydecker didn’t mean it, that he was saving face.
Sternwood took his cue from Lydecker. “Well, then, again, thank you very much for everything.” He lurched forward to give her a hug. She gracefully toreadored it into a handshake, and Cristina herded Sternwood and Lydecker back into the limo.
“Awkward,” said Tom. The light changed, and the two crossed the street. “Did you really want to go to Prowls or was that just something you said to…”
“We’re going to Prowls.”
“Well, Prowls is that way.” Tom pointed west.
“No, it’s this way.” Madeleine pointed north.
They continued to walk. After about a block, the street angled and they could see the bookstore’s signage.
“Ah,” said Tom. “I usually use the Eleventh Street entrance from Couch.”
“When Sternwood stopped us in the doorway he said something very odd. He said he was worried when you brought up the hit-and-run but was happy with how things turned out. What did he mean by that? What hit-and-run?”
“He brought that up?”
“Yes, he did.”
“It was nothing. Several years ago he was running some boilerplate dealer promotion. He was in some fender bender and when everybody at the scene recognized him from his commercials, he bolted. Thing is, when the victim called the police, he got the name wrong. He reported a Sternwood competitor.”
“And you think that’s funny?”
“All right, I’m the only one who thinks it’s funny!” He threw his hands in the air.
Following on the other side of the street, half a block back, Forbes couldn’t fully make out the cold glance that Madeleine cast Tom’s way, but he noticed something change in the ad man’s gait. He had been carrying himself with some semblance of confidence since meeting this woman from Chicago. Now his defeated, shambling shuffle returned.
“Why didn’t you tell me I was working for a killer?” Madeleine asked.
Tom stopped and grabbed her arm. She turned back to face him. She was not happy.
“Philip Sternwood–” He suddenly stopped, aware of his surroundings. They were close to the box office line at the CineLounge Theaters so he moved them a few steps closer to the kinetic sculpture.
“It was a minor fender bender,” he continued. “The guy he hit couldn’t even trump up a serious injury.”
“Then why did Sternwood bolt?”
The question gave Forbes a chill.
She stepped quickly away from him, but he followed, catching the final seconds of the walk light at the corner of Tenth and Burnside. They breezed beneath the Prowls Book Metropolis marquee, past the homeless paper vendor, and into the store.
Forbes walked his bike over to the bookstore’s entrance and locked it in the rack. He was concerned about losing signal. The store was multi-story, massive, took up a full city block. There were solid walls and floors and rows and rows of densely packed bookcases. He’d had trouble with this place in the past and wanted to be ready to use his own eyes and ears.
“So what book are you looking for?” Tom asked.
Forbes didn’t see them. They had moved beyond the entryway with the best sellers, clearance books, periodicals, and checkout.
“I’m not sure,” Madeleine said.
Forbes caught sight of them by the stairs. He found cover behind the Albert Einstein and Charlotte Brontë action figures.
“Okay, I better tell you why we’re here,” she began.
“Remember when I first met Sternwood?”
“You had that drug reaction, right?”
“It wasn’t a drug reaction. I recognized him,” she said.
“Of course, you did. Cristina showed you some of his ads.”
Madeleine shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, I recognized him the way I recognized you.”
Tom didn’t say anything.
“I was sure I knew you,” she said.
“That’s how I felt with Sternwood.”
“You mean you felt the same way about Sternwood?” he asked.
“Yes and no.”
They stepped back to let others use the stairs. Even on a Friday evening in summer, Prowls was bustling.
Madeleine said, “I mean, I felt the same way, that I knew him. I didn’t feel the same way about him.”
“He didn’t…hurt…someone you both knew?”
Forbes was no longer positioned to see Tom’s expression.
“I don’t know him much better than you do,” Tom said. “If what you’re saying is true, I probably don’t know him as well.”
“So you can’t think of someone you both knew?”
“Cristina, Shelby, Shibano.”
She shook her head. “Someone who maybe…someone who maybe loved you?”
He shook his head.
“Come with me.” She headed up the stairs.
They paused at each floor on the ascent. She was looking for something but wasn’t sure what. He just followed.
Forbes maintained a discreet distance.
When they reached the Topaz Room on the sixth floor and passed the area where authors gave their readings, Tom knew where they were headed.
“You want the movie section?” he asked.
“Is that where we’re going?”
Forbes took a few quick flights to arrive at their floor.
Tom shrugged. “That’s what’s back here.”
They walked to the movie books along the far wall. Madeleine scanned several shelves but didn’t find anything.
“I used to log some serious hours here,” he said.
“Movie business,” she said.
“No. Screenwriting books.”
“I’m looking for movie business books.”
He helped her look, but she found the shelf before he did.
Forbes arrived at a corner where he could see Madeleine's reflection in a window facing Couch Street. All she could see of him, if she knew to look, were his eyes scanning another shelf.
It was as though she were perusing a bookshelf at home looking for a particular volume to show Tom. She did.
“She owned this.” She held up a copy of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock’N’Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind.
Forbes memorized the title.
“Who owned this?” Madeleine asked. “A woman who knew you, who knew Sternwood.”
Tom shook his head. “I can’t think of anyone.”
She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. “I pray you’re right.”
“Why? I don’t get–”
She leaned in very close to his ear.
Forbes couldn’t hear what she said through his earpiece but was close enough to think he heard her say, “He murdered her.” When her face pulled back he could see she was dead serious.
“I definitely don’t know anyone who fits that description,” Tom assured her.
She put the book back on the shelf.
“What’s going on, Madeleine? What are you trying to–”
“Come with me,” She walked back toward the stairs. She didn’t wait to see whether he would follow. He paused but took a few quick steps to catch up with her.
When they reached the staircase, Forbes went to the bookshelf where they had been standing and saw there were two copies of the book. If there had only been one, he would have weighed the risk they’d come back for it. As it was, he didn’t know what he’d do with it.
“Where are we going?” Tom asked.
“Home,” said Madeleine.
She shook her head.
“My place?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“We’ll find out when we get there, won’t we?”
They went back through the Tenth Avenue exit.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“Neither do I. Humor me?”
They crossed Burnside and walked east.
She asked, “How would you get home from here?”
“You’ve been to my place.”
“How would you get there?”
“Walk. It’s probably half a mile or so.”
After Forbes paid for the book and deposited it in his checked backpack, he was about a block behind them as he unlocked his bicycle outside the main entrance.
“How do you know that?” Madeleine continued.
“What do you mean, how do I know that? I live here. I know that.”
“I’m not trying to trick you. If I asked you for directions to your place you’d have to give me street names, think about north and south, give me an address. You didn’t think of any of that just now.”
“Good thing too. I’m bad at giving directions,” said Tom.
“Northwest Fourteenth and Kearney: streets are alphabetical, just walk north by northwest.”
Tom laughed. “That’s why you’re a director and why I have to write things down and edit like crazy.”
“Let’s find out where she lived.”
Forbes looked down at his GPS to see where they were headed. As you moved away from Prowls, streets could get empty fairly quickly, and he didn’t want to be the only creepy guy on the block.
“Are you taking the bus?” asked Tom as they approached SW Sixth and Pine.
“Yes, we are.” She realized it only as she said it.
Forbes relaxed a little. Fifth and Sixth avenues were public transportation central. He’d just be another guy waiting for a bus. He could either slap his bike on the front of their bus, wait for the next one going in their direction, or follow at a leisurely pace on his bike. Depending on how many stops the bus made, he might have to take care not to pass them.
“How many are there?” asked Madeleine.
“Basically, every bus that comes downtown,” Tom replied.
“Well, that narrows the field.” She seemed daunted.
“It’s not that big a problem. If you’re just using your homing radar you’ll know which bus stop to use. They stagger the buses so different lines are served by different stops.”
She looked at him. He wasn’t mocking her. He was trying to be helpful.
“Thank you. I know this isn’t what we planned.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t plan anything more ambitious than getting a beer. I don’t know where we’re going, but I doubt we’ll be far from one.”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the mood,” she said, then suddenly, “This is it.”
They stopped at the corner of SW Sixth and Alder.
Forbes was about three-quarters of a block away. He made the decision to take the same bus if he could do it naturally.
Forbes looked up at the sign.
8 - Jackson Park/NE 15th
9 - Powell Blvd.
Tom showed no sign of recognition as Forbes approached and stood beside them with two other couples. He wasn’t wearing mirrored shades. He had a different bike.
“Can we get out of the city tomorrow?” Madeleine asked.
Tom seemed surprised. “I suppose so.”
She seemed surprised. “What? You don’t get out of the city on the weekends?”
“Sure, I’ve been out of the city. We do lots of location shoots.”
She shook her head. “I noticed you have a mountain over there.” She pointed east. He looked blank.
“Mount Hood?” he guessed.
“Yes, Mount Hood.”
“Stanley Kubrick used the exterior of the Timberline Lodge for The Shining,” Tom said.
The 17 pulled up. “This is ours,” she said.
They got on.
Forbes put his bike on the rack at the front. He sat a couple rows behind them but could see their reflection in a window.
“When were you last there?” she asked.
“I haven’t had a chance since I got back from West Hollywood.”
“You haven’t had a chance? Well, aren’t you lucky you ran into me?”
She wants you to kiss her, thought Walter. Tom didn’t kiss her, but he did smile. Walter felt slightly chastened that his subject was showing more restraint than he was.
Did Kahane realize that it was impractical to fall for this woman? Was Barton simply trying to lighten the mood a little given the grim mission they were undertaking?
They sat for a while in silence, taking in the sights as they crossed the bridge, making their way past the two sports pavillions, Convention Center, and Lloyd Center before heading north.
Forbes noticed a worried expression on the window’s black reflection of Madeleine’s face. So did Tom.
“Listen, if you’d rather not hang out tomorrow…” he said.
“Who said I didn’t want to? You don’t want to go for a hike with me?”
“I’m still game. It’s just that you seem to have some pretty heavy stuff on your mind right now.”
“I’m a big girl.”
“Yeah, and in all the right places, too,” Tom replied as Cary Grant.
She groaned at his corny line. “So you don’t get out to the mountain much. How about the ocean?”
Tom winced. “I’ve been really busy.”
Then a look of recognition lit her face, and she reached up to pull the stop request. “This is us.”
The 17 was heading north on NE 27th Avenue when Madeleine pulled the stop request at Wygant.
Forbes straightened in his seat. He wouldn’t be getting off yet but would at the appropriate distance.
The bus pulled over at Alberta, and Madeleine and Tom got off.
“Haven’t been down here in years,” said Tom.
Madeleine’s voice tensed. “You knew someone who lived here?”
The bus progressed north.
Forbes was back on his home turf. He got off at the next stop.
“No. This is where they have the Last Thursday Art Walk. All the galleries are open. Local artists pitch booths. Tons of music. Once there was this guy on a unicycle with a Darth Vader helmet playing the theme from Star Wars on bagpipes.”
“Sounds like fun,” she said. “No wonder you haven’t been here in years.”
She began walking east, and they crossed over to the south side of the street after a few cars passed.
Forbes found a bike rack on the north side of the street, locked up his bike, and continued on foot at a distance.
“This is new,” she said as they walked past an Asian restaurant. “A lot of stuff is new.”
“Are you sure we got off at the right stop?”
“I’m not sure of anything. But here’s the old taqueria. Good burritos.”
“Corky and I had a burrito as big as your head there.”
They walked another four compact blocks before stopping outside the apartments at NE 31st and Alberta. It took a few steps for Tom to realize she had stopped.
“She lived in number 3110,” Madeleine said.
Forbes froze. He checked the GPS on his handheld, disbelieving his ears.
She took out her phone and entered the address. “There. I have what I need. I can do the research when I get back home.”
Tom looked away from her. “Who told you?”
“Told me what?”
“Whose idea was it?”
Forbes could tell that Madeleine knew something was wrong, but she also knew it was something important. “What?”
Tom said nothing. By the length of his pause, it was apparent that it was something she didn’t want to hear. But she managed, “Please.”
From the angle of Tom’s head, Forbes could tell he was trying to read her expression.
After a pause long enough for Tom to guage that she was being honest with him, Tom said, “The woman who lived here. Her name was Laurel Gray. I knew her very briefly.”
Madeleine gasped as she put it together. “She’s the one–”
Forbes put it together a second later. Madeleine had joked about wanting to put a gun to her head, upsetting Tom. Cristina had said, “The gun to the head thing. It’s just that he lost someone.”
Tom hung his head.
“I understand why you’re upset. But don’t blame your friends. You know none of them would do this to you.” Madeleine’s voice choked up a bit. “Only I would.”
She looked down. Forbes wished he could be anywhere else.
Tom moved closer to her. He put his arm around her shoulder. Some August nights could be cold. “You wouldn’t either.”
She looked up at him. He wasn’t angry.
He said, “You got a lot of things right, but you got one thing wrong. Sternwood couldn’t have killed her.”
“Are you sure?”
Tom nodded. “I did.”
©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.