Saturday, March 15, 2014

Work in Progress 2: Replacement Gorilla

Author's note: This is part of my novel-in-progress, Replacement Gorilla. Currently about halfway through, at sitting at 25K words. I'm really having a ball with this story. Finally. It took a while to find the voice. And the plot. And all of it. There's such a thing as being too close to the subject matter.

The Plainclothes cop was called detective Cliff Pittman. And he gave me shit for my stage name. The photographer was called Detective John Sullivan. Cliff and Sully. They set me down in a dark room, metal table, wooden chair, and one light bulb. It smelled of piss and blood. I wasn’t handcuffed, which was small comfort. I’d heard from some of the rowdier day players all about the quality and thoroughness of the L.A. police department’s beatings. They were legendary in their attention to detail. I’ve never been more thankful for three beers in my life.
Pittman did most of the talking, while Sully stood behind him, just out of the range of the light bulb. A pale Irish shadow with his arms folded in front of him, offering the occasional observation. It was a well-rehearsed routine, and they sold it, brother.
“Starsky, we talked to the front office about you,” Pittman said. “You do day-player work, stunt work, and now you’re playing the gorilla.”
“We covered this already,” I said.
“Humor us,” said Sullivan.
“That’s some pretty specific work you’re doing. Playing the monkey, I mean.” Pittman said. “There can’t be too much call for that, even at shithole studios like Intrepid.”
“Well, somebody’s got to play the cop in this picture,” I said, pronouncing it just like McAuley did.
I’ll give Pittman credit for one thing: he didn’t telegraph his punch. It shot straight out from his waist and caught me on the bridge of my nose. If he didn’t break it, it sure as hell wasn’t from a lack of effort on his part. I could smell the blood and taste it and I shot up out of my chair to return the favor. Sullivan was in front of me before I could adjust my trajectory and I ran into him at full force. He just grabbed me by the arms and pushed me back in the chair.
“I don’t think you wanna do that, Starsky,” he said, pinning me in place until I stopped struggling.
“Call me Clay. We’re all friends, here.”
Sullivan turned to his partner. “He’s got brass balls, I’ll say that for him.”
“I ain’t impressed,” Pittman said. “And the longer he dances with me, the more pissed off I’m gonna get.”
Sullivan backed up against the wall, refolding his arms. “Yeah, Clay, maybe you’d better just answer the questions, huh?”
     “I’m waiting for you two to ask me one,” I said, wiping my nose. It wasn’t broken, but it was bloody as hell. I went for my handkerchief before I remembered I gave it to Louise.
Sullivan tossed me a cheap replacement. Pittman let me clean up for a minute and then said, “Okay, tough guy, where were you on June the third?”
I really had to think about it for a minute. I counted backwards to remember. “Wednesday night. I went to Rudy’s with the guys.”
“The guys,” said Pittman. “Like who, for instance?”
“Joe Wilcox, and some of the other guys from Jungle Jones. We started shooting on Monday, and we were blowing off steam.”
“How long were you there?” Pittman asked.
I puffed out my cheeks. “Well, let’s see...”
“Come on, Starsky, quit stalling,” Pittman barked.
     “Didja close the place down?” prompted Sullivan.
“Yeah, we all left there after two in the morning. Steve kicked us out.”
“See, Cliff?” said Sullivan. “They all got the same story.”
“Yeah, Wilcox told us the same thing,” Pittman groused.
“Is that a bad thing?” I said. “Ernie was respected. He was one of us. We were all sick about what happened.”
“Not so broken up that you didn’t touch his widow to buy the suit, eh?” Sullivan said.
I nodded. “Yeah, I wanted to break into doing what Ernie did. But I think stabbing a guy to get the job is a little much, even for Hollywood.”
“How’d you know he was stabbed?” said Pittman.
“Remember, Cliff? Clay was the guy lurking up the rafters,” Sullivan said.
“Oh, right.” Pittman snapped his fingers. “Hey, Sully, you remember how he came down the ladder when we caught him? He just slid down on his own steam.”
“Neat trick,” said Sullivan.
“Takes strength,” said Pittman.
“It sure does,” said Sullivan.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Only this,” said Pittman, leaning in. “You could’ve given your pals the slip and drove back to the studio, and decided to take Ernie out on your own, then drove back and slipped in while everyone was in their cups, and no one would be any wiser.”
“That’s nuts,” I said.
“Not really,” said Sullivan. “You got motive. You got means. And this would be opportunity.”
I looked at both of them, incredulous. They were deadly serious. Pittman’s punch had knocked most of the beer out of me, but their demeanor scared the rest of it right out of me.  I swallowed and tried to be as sincere as I could.
“You guys still hang murderers here?” I asked.
“Yep, for now,” said Pittman.
“Maybe the gas chamber, if the politicos have their way,” said Sullivan.
“Okay,” I said. “I want to tell you guys a couple of things. I get paid twenty-five bucks a day for stunt work. If I’m wearing the suit, I get paid double that. Fifty bucks a day. That costume weighs sixty-five pounds when it’s dry, and about eighty pounds when I’m sweating. I can’t be in it for more than a few minutes, or I can pass out, or worse.”
“What do you want from us?” growled Pittman. “No one’s making you do it.”
“Let me finish,” I said. “If you want to make any money as a gorilla man, you gotta hustle. Two or three jobs a week, if you’re lucky. You need your own suit. There’s only a few guys and they all have their own suit. I’m buying Ernie’s on an installment plan. And now, I’ve also paying the head of wardrobe a fiver on every job to keep the suit in working order.” I took a breath. “I thought this would be a fun way to make some extra bucks, but now I’m thinking twice about the whole goddamn thing. Now I ask you guys: does that sound like I’ve got a motive to kill the King of the Gorilla Men?”
Sullivan cleared his throat. Pittman turned away and they exchanged a few looks that I couldn’t read. When Pittman turned back to me, he was smirking. “Okay, Starsky, you may not know who did it, but I ain’t convinced that you don’t know something about who did. Alla you Hollywood types are very close.”
“Is that a crack?” I asked. “Coming from the guy making goo-goo eyes at his partner just now? When are you two gonna tie the knot?”
Pittman’s smile broke. He stepped aside, muttering, “And we were getting along so well, too.” Sullivan was right behind him.
Sullivan hit a lot harder that Pittman. A lot.

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