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Authors: Stuart Woods

Tags: #Suspense, #Thriller, #Mystery

Beverly Hills Dead

BOOK: Beverly Hills Dead
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Synopsis:

New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods returns with the sequel to The Prince of Beverly Hills -- a page-turning novel of murder, political intrigue, and betrayal set in 1940s Hollywood, the era of the "Red Scare," when almost anyone could be a suspect.

Rick Barron, a former Beverly Hills cop, has risen to head of production of Centurion Pictures, and he's at the top of his game. But tensions are high in Hollywood, and when Rick's friend Sidney Brooks, a successful screenwriter, receives a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee, Rick isn't surprised. The witch hunt is spreading, and those under investigation are Rick's closest friends -- even his wife, the glamorous starlet Glenna Gleason.

Set in a time of suspicion and uncertainty, Beverly Hills Dead is Stuart Woods's best novel yet -- a fast-paced and sexy thriller full of the nail-biting twists and startling turns that Woods fans always expect.

BEVERLY HILLS DEAD

Stuart Woods

The second book in the Rick Barron series

Copyright (c) 2008 by Stuart Woods

This book is for
David and Susan Lederman.

1

Rick Barron took one last look through the viewfinder, then he turned to the assistant director. "Conversation," he said.

The AD held up a megaphone and shouted, "Conversation!"

At once, a hundred and fifty extras, packed into a set that was a replica of Sardi's, the famous theater-district restaurant in New York, began to talk.

"Action," Rick said quietly.

"Speed," the camera operator replied.

Waiters began to move among the tables.

"Cue the entrance," Rick said.

"Entrance," the AD said into a microphone hanging around his neck. He signaled the dolly man, and the camera began to roll smoothly down the restaurant's main aisle toward the entrance of the restaurant.

The front door opened, and his leading lady, Glenna Gleason, wearing a gorgeous evening gown and followed by another actress and two actors, all in evening dress, walked in and were greeted by a Vincent Sardi look-alike. As they walked past the small bar and entered the dining room, the camera backtracked, and, on cue, all the diners stood and applauded.

Glenna managed to look shocked, then delighted as she followed "Sardi" to their table along the wall. The camera stopped and moved in closer as a microphone boom was lowered over the false wall to pick up their dialogue.

"My God," Glenna said. "I didn't know it could be like this."

The actor on her left turned to her. "Katherine," he said, "it's going to be like this from now on."

On Rick's signal, the camera began to dolly slowly away from the table and, keeping Glenna's party in the center of the frame, rose to a height of twelve feet and stopped.

"Keep the conversation going," Rick said from his chair on the boom next to the camera. He sat and watched the stopwatch in his hand for ninety seconds, which was what they needed to roll under the closing titles. "Cut!" he yelled, finally. "Print it! That's a wrap!" It was the fourth take, and it was perfect. They had shot the three scenes set at Sardi's all on the same day, and now it was done: Rick had made his first feature film as a director. He sagged with relief as the camera operator pounded him on the back.

Then, to his astonishment, every actor on the set rose from his seat and gave the director a standing ovation. Rick stood up, holding on to the camera for support, then turned and faced the bulk of the crowd. "Cut!" he yelled again. "Start the party!"

A part of the rear wall of the set was rolled away, revealing a huge buffet table and a bar serving real booze instead of the tea in the prop glasses on the table. The crowd of extras surged toward the food and drink, and Rick signaled the boom operator to lower the camera to the floor. He hopped off and slid into a banquette beside his wife, giving her a big kiss. "Glenna, my darling, that was great. It's going to be wonderful, the whole thing."

Two of the actors got up from the table and made way for Eddie Harris, the chairman of Centurion Studios, and Sidney Brooks, the famous New York playwright, who had written the script for
Times Square Dance
.

"Rick," Eddie said, "congratulations."

Champagne appeared and was poured.

"I thought that last scene went beautifully," Brooks said to everybody.

"Sid, we're going to do your script proud," Rick said. "Just give me a couple of days, and I'll show you a rough cut."

"I can't wait," Brooks replied.

"I have to go pee," Glenna said, and Rick let her out of the banquette. The actor playing her husband got up, too, leaving Rick, Eddie Harris and Sidney Brooks at the table.

"Fellas," Brooks said, "I have to tell you something."

Rick looked at the man across the table. For the first time since he had met the playwright, the man looked less than happy.

"What's up, Sid?" Eddie asked.

"I wanted to tell you before it hits the papers tomorrow," Brooks said.

"Tell us what?" Rick asked.

"I've been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, along with eighteen other people, mostly writers but a few actors and one director."

"Oh, shit," Eddie said. "Well, don't worry about it; get a good lawyer."

"I'm sorry, Sid," Rick said, "but Eddie is right about the lawyer."

"There's a meeting tomorrow," Brooks replied. "I want to tell you fellows..."

"You don't need to tell us anything," Eddie said.

"You mean, you'd rather not know, don't you, Eddie?"

"The first thing your lawyer is going to tell you is to shut up," Eddie said. "I'm just giving you a head start; don't say anything to anybody, unless your lawyer approves it first."

"I'm not looking to drag anybody into this," Brooks said. "I just want to be honest with you. This picture has been the best experience I've had since I came out here four years ago; it's the first picture that's given me the same sort of satisfaction that writing a play used to."

"Look, Sid," Rick said, "these people are going to hold their hearings, grill some movie stars, and then it'll be over. Six months from now you'll have put it behind you."

Brooks set a briefcase on the table, opened it and pulled out a thick manila envelope. "I've been working on this for two years," he said. "I've never told anybody about it, but it's the best thing I've ever written for either the stage or film, and after the wonderful experience I've had with the production of
Times Square Dance
, I want you fellows to produce it, and, Rick, I'd be delighted if you'd direct again."

"Thank you, Sid," Rick said, and he meant it. "I'll read it tonight."

"Tell your agent to call Rick in the morning," Eddie said. "We'll have a deal before lunchtime."

"But you haven't even read it, Eddie," Brooks said, laughing.

"I don't need to. I'll buy it sight unseen."

Rick knew that wasn't quite true, but he knew that Eddie expected to like the script; he would want Rick's opinion first, though.

"It's a western," Brooks said.

"
What
?" Rick exclaimed. "The theater's urban genius has written a western?"

"The grittiest, down-and-dirtiest western you ever saw," Brooks said. "I love westerns, and I've always wanted to write one; to tell you the truth, it's the principal reason I came out here, just to get the opportunity. I've had the idea for a long time, but it wouldn't work on the stage, and I didn't want it produced without the level of participation you fellows have given me."

"Thank you, Sid," Rick said.

Glenna returned from the ladies' room and sat down. "I called home," she said. "The girls are fine, and I told Rosie to give them dinner and put them to bed. I take it we'll be here for a while."

"I think we will," Rick said. "I think I'd better circulate and thank everybody." He handed Brooks's script to her. "Guard this with your life," he said. "It's the next Sidney Brooks film."

"Oh, is there a part for me?" she asked excitedly.

"I haven't read it yet, sweetheart; I'll let you know tomorrow." Rick got up and began making his way around the Sardi's set, shaking hands, hugging and kissing and enduring many claps on the back.

A moment later, Eddie Harris caught up with him. "Listen, kid," he said, leaning into Rick's ear. "If that script is any good we need to get it into production fast."

"I'm supposed to personally produce the new war film," Rick said. "We could do it right after that."

"I got a bad feeling about these HUAC hearings," Eddie said. "I'd rather have Sid's film in the can, even if we have to postpone production on the war movie."

"Okay. I'll call you when I've read it," Rick said. Eddie fell away, and Rick continued his rounds, but his euphoria at finishing shooting had been pricked by Eddie Harris, and air was leaking out.

2

The wrap party was over by eight. Rick drove Glenna to her cottage/dressing room to change out of her gown, then home. They looked in on their daughters, Louise, two, and Glenn, three months, and found them happily asleep. Glenna went to bed with a novel, and Rick settled into his study to read Sidney Brooks's new script.

It was just as down-and-dirty as Sid had said it was, probably the most realistic depiction of the Old West that Rick had come across, and he loved it. He knew Eddie Harris would still be up, and he called him.

"Eddie Harris."

"It's me; the script is terrific. We may take some heat for the realism, but it's worth fighting for."

"Then buy it. Pay him more than he expects; he may need the money soon."

"You're really worried about the committee hearings?"

"Never underestimate how far politicians will go to get their names in the papers."

"You know what's-his-name, don't you? The California congressman who's on the committee?"

"Dick Nixon? Yeah, I know him, and as far as I'm concerned he's a real shit. He beat Helen Gahagan Douglas by telling people she was a Communist, which she in no way, shape or form was, and I won't ask him for a favor."

"You know anybody else on the committee?"

"Nah, they're all from New Jersey or the South or someplace."

"Is there anything we can do to help Sid?"

"It's too soon to tell. All we can do right now is to pay him well and up front for his script."

"Up front?"

"It's the least we can do after the job he did on
Times Square Dance
. What's the new script called?"

"
Bitter Creek
. It's about a fight over water rights."

"Tried-and-true western theme."

"Believe me, nothing about this is tried-and-true. There are no heroes, just people who are less bad than other people."

"Will it sell tickets?"

"Yes. There are at least three roles that leading actors would kill for and one really good female role, a woman who runs a ranch after her husband is murdered."

"Glenna?"

"Only if she really wants to do it. I wouldn't try to persuade her; it's so different from everything else she's done. Think of a younger Marjorie Main."

"That sure doesn't sound like Glenna."

"I think that's what she'll say, too."

"Okay, kid, I'll see you tomorrow." Eddie hung up.

Rick poured himself half a drink and reflected on what his life might be like now were it not for Eddie Harris's friendship. Rick had still been a cop when he had witnessed a horrible traffic accident involving Centurion's biggest star at the time, Clete Barrow. A woman had run a stop sign and had been killed as a result. Rick had been quick-witted enough to get the actor out of there and, at Barrow's urging, called Eddie Harris. Before he knew what had hit him, Rick had become Centurion's head of security, and since that date, Eddie had given him more and more responsibility.

When Rick had had to get out of L.A. because of a shooting and had joined the navy, Eddie had continued to pay his salary, and when he returned, his knee shot up, Eddie had found the best knee surgeon west of the Mississippi to fix it. Now, with studio founder Sol Weinman dead, Eddie was chairman and CEO, and Rick had his old job as head of production.

Rick's career as a cop was already on the rocks when he met Eddie, and if not for Eddie, he'd probably be a down-at-the-heels private eye, doing divorce work.

Rick emptied his glass and went up to bed. Glenna was still awake.

"So, is there a part for me?"

"There's only one decent female role," Rick replied, "a sort of younger Marjorie Main character."

Glenna made a face. "Not for me. I'm not ready for character roles."

"That's what I thought you'd say." He tossed the script on the bed and began to undress. "Read it, though; I don't want you to come back after you've seen the picture and yell at me for not giving you the role."

"I don't yell."

"Yes you do when you don't get the roles you want." Rick got into bed.

"
Mmm
, no pajamas, huh?" she asked. "What could that mean?"

"Just that I'm available."

Glenna took a deep breath. "Before I make that decision, I want to ask you something."

"Shoot."

"An unintentionally ironic reply," she said. "Did you shoot Chick Stampano?"

Rick drew in a quick breath. That was completely unexpected. Stampano had been a slick Mafia thug and blackmailer who had preyed on rising actresses, Glenna among them. He had also given her a horrible beating that had put her in the hospital for weeks. "Why are you asking me that after what, four years?"

"I have an opinion; I just want a fact. I want to know if my husband would kill for me."

BOOK: Beverly Hills Dead
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