Authors: Randy Wayne White
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Randy Wayne White writing as Carl Ramm
“Take off your clothes,” ordered the woman. “I can't make any decision as long as you have your pants on. You're here for a screen test, aren't you? Well, aren't you?”
James Hawker stood just inside the door of a suite of offices on the eighteenth floor of an East Jefferson Avenue smogscraper in downtown Detroit. The woman sat at a bare desk in a nearly bare room. Behind her there was a window. Through the window he could see the steeple of the Mariner's Church and, by leaning to the left, the December bleakness of Lake St. Clair. The steeple looked very old, very delicate against the stalagmite gloom of the city beyond.
“Screen test?” repeated James Hawker. “Oh â¦ yeah â¦ rightâa screen test. I would like to take off all my clothes and stand in front of a camera. Why else would I be here?”
In the center of the room a bank of Klieg lights and a video camera sat on tripods above an empty bed. Beyond the bed was a door. Hawker assumed the screen test the woman mentioned had to do with the making of a pornographic film. He also assumed the door led to more officesâoffices he wanted to see.
“Well?” asked the woman.
“Well?” echoed Hawker.
“Well, take your god damn clothes off! The camera team is working in the back set, but they'll be breaking in about twenty minutes, and you'd damn well better be ready!”
At the desk, the woman held a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and a Virginia Slims cigarette in the other. She used a peanut can as an ashtray. The woman, in her late forties, had silver-blond hair cut boyishly short and owlish glasses. Hawker wondered why anyone would try so hard to look like Geraldine Ferraro.
He had followed a pock-faced man and a woman into the skyscraper, then lost them in the crowded halls. He suspected the woman to be Brenda Jacobsen Paulie. He had recognized her from the photographs in his Detroit Kidnap Victims file. In the photographs she had wheat-colored hair and a very pretty face. They had dyed her hair inky black, and her eyes were bleary with drugs and lack of sleep, but Hawker was almost sure it was the same woman.
The man was either her keeper or her kidnapper, and they were somewhere in this buildingâmaybe in this suite of offices.
Hawker had to find out.
Brenda Paulie was only one of at least thirteen women who had been kidnapped in the last twelve months. Paulie's story was as tragic as any of them. Only twenty-four years old, she had just graduated from law school. In June she married Blake Paulie, a successful Detroit attorney. On the morning of September fifteenth, a Tuesday, the Paulies learned they were to be parents. Brenda was pregnant. They planned a celebration dinner for that evening.
The dinner was never to be.
That afternoon, just after sunset, three men wearing masks forced their way into the house at gunpoint. They beat and tied Blake Paulie, then took his wife.
The kidnapping was different from the others in only two ways: The kidnappers had taken their victim from a house rather than off the street; also, Brenda Paulie was the first victim who did not live in the crime-ravaged Marlow West suburb of Detroit.
Detroit detectives worked overtime, even on their days off, trying to break just one of the more than a dozen kidnapping cases. Finally, frustrated by a thousand deadend leads as well as the investigative restraints placed on them as officers of the law, they put out a signal for help.
They knew who they wantedâif he would just come.
Most of the detectives had heard the whispered stories of an auburn-haired vigilante ex-cop who wasn't afraid to take the law into his own hands in order to bring the lawless to justice. The vigilante's methods, the detectives knew, provided him with tremendous shortcuts. They also knew the kidnappers and their gang were likely to end up dead on the street if they tried to resist the vigilante.
But considering the cruelty of their crimes, that was fine with them.
Finally, doubly sickened by the kidnapping of a pregnant newlywed, a couple of the detectives decided it was time to get outside help. None of them, of course, even knew what the vigilante's name was, much less how to get in touch with him. So they spread the word among their connections in the underworld. As only experienced detectives could know, criminals and cops have much more in common than cops and judges ever will.
So it was in early December that Hawker got a call from his Mafia friend, Louie Brancacci. Brancacci told him the story of the kidnappings, and Hawker immediately got in touch with his friend and associate, Jacob Montgomery Hayes. Hayes, as Hawker expected, was all for his going to Detroit. Hayes's butler, Hendricks, took care of shipping out the gear he would need by a private courier truck.
Hawker drove the midnight-blue Corvette his friend Big Nick Clements had completely refurbished for him. He arrived in Detroit to find that Hendricks, as always, had done a superb job of seeing that he had a quiet, comfortable place to live as well as all the fighting hardware he could ever use.
Now, after almost two fruitless weeks of painstaking detective work, Hawker had his first break. Ironically, it was luck, blind, blind luck, that he ever noticed Brenda Paulie among the throngs of people on the Detroit sidewalks.
So now he had to find her. He couldn't allow such luck to slip away.
Hawker knew he had to find a way to get past this receptionist. He knew he had to find a reason for searching the back part of the suite. He wasn't sure he had to take off his clothes to do it.
In December, in Detroit, Hawker figured, it's cold no matter where you are.
“So,” said Hawker, stalling for time, “what's the title of this movie you're making? It's not a western, is it? I love westerns.”
The woman scowled at him. Her way of communicating her disapproval was to sigh. She sighed now. “A western? (Sigh.) Don't be flippant with me, all right? I don't like it. We consider the films we make to be works of art â¦ art that is too complicated for your average working-class drone. We make important statements and we take our work very seriously. Understand? So, from now on, I'll ask the questions. (Sigh.) What's your name?”
“My name is Hawker. James Hawker.”
“Not Jim Hawker. Not Jimmyâbut
Hawker.” The woman sighed her distaste. “I'm afraid it'll never do. You'll have to choose another.”
“Another name, for God's sake. Can you really be so dumb?” She looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I guess you can be. Look, I'm sure you put a lot of time into thinking up that name, and it does show a pleasant childlike imagination, but it just doesn't fit.”
“Yeah, but I didn't know you were making a western. How about Roy Hawker? Randolph Hawker? Dukeâ”
making a western, and I'm getting a little tired of your inane jokes.” There was a reptilian glow in the woman's eye, and Hawker guessed her hobby was cutting healthy American males into little bite-size pieces.
“Look, lady, I don'tâ”
“Don't âlook lady' me, buster!” the woman cut in. She jumped up from her desk and wagged a finger in Hawker's face. “You have three choices. You can call me Ms. Bent, or, if we hire you, you can call me Adria.”
“And the third choice?” asked Hawker, trying hard to be meek.
“The third choice is to get the fuck out of here and kiss your screen test good-bye.” Pushing her jaw out, the woman glared at him. The cigarette drooped from the corner of her mouth.
“Oops. Sorry. Guess I was a little out of line â¦ Ms. Bent.” Hawker, who hadn't known about the porno operation until he walked into the office, added, “I'd hate to blow my chances at this screen test, ma'am. I've been looking forward to this for a long, long time.”
Some of the anger left the woman's face. She nodded. “That's better. I always like to let our actors know exactly where they stand from the very first day.” She gave him a penetrating look. “Do you know where you stand, Mr. Hawker?”
Slumping submissively, Hawker looked at the point where his feet touched the linoleum. “I think I do, Ms. Bent. I think I know exactly where I stand.”
“Good. So we need to work on a new name for youâif you look good on film, of course.” She studied him closely for the first time. “What happened to your nose, for God's sake? Was it broken?”
Hawker touched his face experimentally. “Geeze, I don't think so. My face may have been shoved to the side a couple of times, but my nose is just fine.”
“More jokes, huh? (Sigh.) Well, strip off those clothes, busterâthen maybe we will really have something to joke about.”
Hawker wore jeans, running shoes, and a rust-colored sweater beneath a short leather jacket. The jacket was still wet from the snow that was falling outside. Hawker took his right foot in both hands and hopped around for a moment as if trying to remove his shoe. He stopped abruptly, an expression of innocence on his face. “Say, do you have a head around here?”
“You know, a head â¦ a toilet.”
The woman's face reddened. “Look, you silly little shit, if you're too shy to strip in front of me, you're sure as hell too shy to do a porno film!”
“Naw, it's not that. Whenever I get nervous, my bladder gets little cramps.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I've got to pee.”
Hawker kicked at the floor. “I'm sorryâurinate.”
The woman's face was growing redder. “It's through that door, second hallway to the leftâand don't forget to put up the lid.” She snapped off her last words. “And when you get back, buster, you'd better be nude. You may have time to waste, but I don't.”