Authors: Diane Patterson
EVERYBODY TAKES THE MONEY
Copyright © 2014 Diane Patterson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
To Rob, who said he was buying dinner if I ever finished this.
Pay up, dude.
EVERYBODY TAKES THE MONEY
When Drusilla Thorne goes along with her friend to an interview of reality TV star Courtney Cleary, she's expecting an easy afternoon. Instead, Courtney's shady boyfriend Roger attacks Drusilla, landing her in the hospital. And he claims she assaulted him.
Then Courtney disappears. Since the starlet can corroborate the truth about the assault, Drusilla tracks her down. But as soon as Drusilla does, the TV star is murdered right in front of her. Worst of all, even though she didn't see the killer, the killer clearly saw her.
Now Drusilla has to track the murderer down, clear her name, and stay alive in the meantime.
She can’t wait to find out the rest of the week has in store for her.
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“THE THINGS I do for money,” Anne da Silva said as we drove into the parking lot of Mason’s Motel. Mason’s was a cheap but clean-looking two-story motel on 6
Street near Los Angeles’s Koreatown district. Mid-century, featureless architecture, with a sea of asphalt outside the downstairs doors. The exterior was painted this weird mix of beige and orange. There was no glass in the parking lot, all of the cars there were in fine condition, and the exterior of the motel was well maintained. It might have been low budget, but it was well taken care of.
She parked by a small row of bushes and then looked at me. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done for money?”
I shrugged. “I know I wouldn’t kill anyone,” I said.
She blinked at me through her blue cat’s-eye glasses. “Drusilla? Seriously? That’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
Mentally I slapped myself. Anne’s only exposure to murder had been the death that had introduced us to one another, when my husband Colin was murdered two months ago. In the course of figuring out who killed him, I’d met his girlfriend, Anne.
They were a much better couple together than he and I ever had been. I was truly sorry for her loss.
Anne’s response reminded me that, to many people, murder is a simple conversational gambit. I have a much greater familiarity with homicide than she does. Than most people do, to be honest, and that fact can freak them out if I’m not careful. One more thing to hide.
“What’s the worst thing
ever done for money?” I asked.
“I asked you first.” She wiped her glasses on her blouse. “C’mon. Tell me the worst thing.”
The motel’s exterior had looked deserted when we arrived, but it turned out there was a guy loitering in the shadows, standing between the Coke machine and a bush. He seemed kind of gangly and highly strung, shifting his balance back and forth as he looked at us. First he stared at us, then he watched cars going by, and then he checked us out again. His attention skipped here and there. He wore one of those unkempt beards that young men who don’t have office jobs seem to like. If he’d been wearing a wool cap I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
“Take a gander at that bloke,” I said.
Anne leaned forward and studied him. “That’s who we’re here to meet.”
“Are you joking?”
“You didn’t bring any shuriken or anything with you, did you?”
“Forgot to pack them before I left the house this morning. Are you certain you want to continue? This fellow seems rather sketchy.”
“He’s waiting for us.”
I stared at her. “Again I ask: are you joking?”
She shook her head. “Are you okay with doing this?”
This? This was much easier than our adventures in Baldwin Park had been. Still, wouldn’t do to seem too eager. “Are you still paying me?”
Anne was shorter, rounder, and less athletic than I was. I was taller and more physical, without appearing especially aggressive. I made a good companion on these sorts of trips. She knew my talents at self-defense and liked having me around when she was going to do anything remotely scary. Which made sense for the trips we’d taken for her articles over the past two weeks: a religious commune in Ojai led by a charismatic and definitely creepy punk who liked to quote Buddhist philosophy and use the women as his harem, a hellish brothel in Baldwin Park staffed by unwilling, undocumented Cambodian immigrants, and a meth bust in a small nothing town north of San Diego. The drive there and back had been pleasant, at least.
This day’s assignment had disappointed her: back on the fake, fluffy entertainment beat. She had told me this assignment was a minor affair involving a reality show starlet I’d never heard of. She wondered if she’d done something to disappoint her editors; I wondered if an assignment involving a celebrity meant there would be cocktails at the W or something. Instead we were here at this motel in Koreatown. Made sense why she’d need me along with her to feel secure.
These days I had so few reasons of my own to meet sketchy men in motels. I always looked forward to Anne’s phone calls.
She nodded. “Yes, of course I’m paying you.”
“Good. Here are the rules. It’s a short list, one rule. If I say we leave, we leave. Do you need to write any part of that down to remember it?”
She nodded as she slung her camera over her shoulder. “Understood.”
The fellow’s name was Roger Sabo and he was Anne’s contact for her story. She wanted to do a “Where are they now?” article on some of the figures from reality shows that had been popular for fifteen seconds and then disappeared, taking all of their newly minted “celebrities” with them. There wasn’t much of a market for the actual celebrities themselves, mind you, but stories about whatever had happened to them after their fame had flitted by were wildly popular.
Anne, a celebrity journalist, liked working on popular stories, as getting published kept her employed.
Roger had been a producer or production assistant or something on
Girls Becoming Stars
, a reality program about young women who moved to L.A. to become (what else) celebrities. Not my sort of thing, but Anne told me the show had been a train-wreck success, a guilty pleasure watched and torn apart by millions every Tuesday night on Twitter. Clothes, morals, and friendships had been cast off easily and frequently. The girls had competed with one another, on camera and off, to get the most attention from anyone calling himself a producer.
In Los Angeles, everyone’s a producer. Everyone has business cards and their CV at the ready. The print shop is everyone’s first stop after crossing the county line.
I shook my head. “You said we were here to talk to that girl.”
“Yeah. Courtney. Roger is Courtney’s boyfriend and she wants him here.”
“And Courtney is...?”
“She was one of the stars of
Girls Becoming Stars
. The cute Oklahoma girl with a down-home drawl and Daisy Duke shorts.”
“Wait. Let me guess. Turned out that, in fact, she couldn’t act worth a damn.”
Anne made a clicking noise with her tongue. “A common and usually fatal ailment among wannabe movie stars.”
“But now she’s back.”
“They’re doing a reunion show. You know. For the nostalgia.”
“A reunion show? How long was this show on the air?”
“Four seasons. But reality show seasons are different. They did two seasons per year, so really it only lasted about two years.”
“How long has it been off the air?”
She glanced at her notes. “Two years.”
Los Angeles and the entertainment industry gave me a headache twenty-four-seven. “Mother of Apollo. This show that was on the air for two years—”
Anne smiled. “—on a cable network you’ve never heard of—”
“—gets a reunion show and this is what passes for
My family owns a lot of media and entertainment companies. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find out that someone in my immediate family tree owned
Girls Becoming Stars
. Early on, my family taught me the joy and beauty of taking money from people who keep waving it at you.
I gave the nervous Nellie in the shadows a once-over.
“Everyone in this town has a posse.”
She nodded. “And you’re mine, cutie. We want to talk to Courtney, we go through Roger.”
“There were other girls on the show, right? Ones who don’t hang out in motels with sketchy blokes?”
“I drew the Courtney straw. As soon as I heard where we were meeting, I called you.” She poked me in the shoulder.
We got out of the car and Roger scowled at us until he recognized Anne. At least, he switched to a less flagrant method of doing it. “Hey. She’s waiting.”
As we walked toward him, something bothered me enough to make me put my hand on Anne’s arm to stop her. While at times in my life I have accepted money for psychic readings, I have never actually been psychic, so when my internal alarms go off I immediately figure out what’s set them off.
It had to be our anxious, twitchy little friend, stuck between the Coke machine and a bush.
His right hand kept scratching at his nose—a bad habit at the best of times, but the recurrent way he kept doing it said “drugs” or “nerves” or maybe both. His left hand was jammed in his coat pocket, not moving. He also kept licking his lower lip, right before he chewed on it a little. Overall he had a weird and unsettling combination of nervous motion and stillness going on.
“Roger, I need to ask you to take your hand out of your pocket.”
He squinted at me. “Who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Drusilla Thorne. Did you hear what I said, Roger?” Always keep repeating their name. It gives the person something to focus on.
His right hand, still scratching the side of his nose, stopped moving, and as he pulled it away he stared at it.
“Oh.” He pulled his left hand out of his pocket. He wasn’t holding anything. He must have jammed the hand in there and then left it as though it were stuck. “Court’s really looking forward to this.” He rapped on the door to Room 11 with his knuckles. When the door remained stubbornly closed, he slammed his open hand on the door a few times. “Open up,” he yelled.
The curtains on the room’s window, which had been pulled all the way across, twitched at a corner. Then the door opened.
Roger pushed the door all the way open, revealing a standard motel room with all of its lights on. “Jesus, takes you long enough.”
The young woman who answered the door was definitely one of the L.A. species known as “a bobble-head doll.” She was pretty, with symmetrical features and big eyes, and she had bright blonde hair that fell in giant, soft waves around her face. Her head appeared even bigger than it normally would have, though, because her body was so thin her head ended up too large for her frame. She had awesome cheekbones, most likely due to her low body fat. But she still had huge breasts, which stretched against the fabric of her tight pink V-neck t-shirt. Her face was lovely, but for someone so young—early twenties?—she was wearing way too much makeup.
I glanced at Anne. She nodded. This was Courtney from the show, all right.
Roger pushed his way into the motel room, right past Courtney, and then he turned to wave us in. “Come on, come on,” he said, like we were backing up a truck full of vegetables onto his loading dock.