Castle Roland

On The Web

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 2

Published: 8 Apr 14

Maker Meeting

by Jack Scribe

The stranger placed his arm around Thad's back, locked his hand under the shorter man's armpit and abruptly turned south. 'Thank god for being in good shape,' he thought as he patiently led Thad down the sidewalk. 'Gotta get 'em to his car before he becomes total dead weight. This loser has no idea that I'm going to be his worst nightmare.' Rory was quite pleased that the cocktail had been so effective and Thad hadn't recognized him in such a dorky disguise. 'This black wig almost makes me look like Katie Holmes in drag.'

"Whur we goin'?" Thad slurred. "An' who're you?"

"As I said...just a friend who's taking you to your car and home." Rory replied. "You're in no shape to drive."

"Oh...Guesh tha' may sense. Um bein' pick up an' ah can't even see ya." Thad attempted a snicker as his jaw became slack. "You goin' ta stay all night?" He audibly sucked in to stop the drool.

"Let's find your white Mustang first." Rory figured they could continue like this for a couple of blocks. 'Then you'll serve my purpose,' he thought while adjusting his grip a little tighter. As he considered the plan he had formulated over the previous 24 hours, he felt confident that he would be able to kill two birds with one stone - literally and figuratively. For a fleeting moment, he felt a little sorry that Thad Brooks had been dragged into this scenario. 'Dragged,' he thought with a smile, 'is not an understatement. And he doesn't recognize me.' He had stashed his gym bag outside the back of the bar in a deserted corner.

To others strolling the sidewalk, the two men appeared to be buddies - the taller one helping his friend get home after an evening of excessive alcohol at one of West Hollywood's bars. A block further and Thad's tentative walking became more of an awkward stumbling motion. Rory looked frontward, avoiding eye contact with anyone approaching. He stopped for a moment to put Thad's limp arm around his neck and ease his remaining free hand under Thad's other armpit. The former Marine would have gone into the rescue mode he learned at the Camp Lejeune survival school but thought that carrying Thad over his shoulder would be too obvious.

He saw the old Mustang a half-block ahead. 'Good. It's not under a streetlight and the top's down. This bastard is almost out for the night.' As they approached the car, Thad was no longer able to manage a forward motion. Rory carefully leaned the limp body against the passenger door and felt Thad's left front pants pocket searching for his keys. Rory's hand brushed across Thad's warm but unresponsive crotch and he thought, 'Under normal conditions, it might be fun to do this guy.' He patted the other pocket and felt the outline of a key ring. 'Bingo.' He reached in and retrieved a set of car keys.

In one swift motion Rory picked up Thad's limp body and placed it, slumped to the side, on the back seat. He quickly walked around to the driver's door and paused. After assuring that no one was near, he pulled out a pair of thin latex gloves and carefully put them on. Satisfied that he would not leave any identifying prints, Rory confidently opened the door and slid into the driver's seat. He looked at his watch before he put the key into the ignition switch to confirm he was on schedule. He took one final look at the back seat and the unmoving lump of human cargo before starting the powerful 5.0L Mustang engine. 'Not bad,' he thought as the post-muscle car rumbled in idle, 'Thad keeps this car in good shape.' He flipped the switch to raise the top. 'This will get us to Harvey's place just fine. Afterwards will be a piece of cake.'

A U-turn, during a break in traffic, allowed Rory to avoid driving by the string of bars towards Santa Monica Boulevard and take a less traveled street over to San Vicente Boulevard towards the Hollywood hills. He flipped open his cell, scrolled to Harvey Fine's number and hit 'send'. It was a standing rule that Rory would always call as he approached the upper Sunset Drive neighborhood. The call was answered after the second ring.

"It's me," Rory said quietly.

"Right on time, my boy. Just what the doctor ordered. I've got an itch." Harvey laughed and disconnected.

'Just what the doctor ordered, indeed,' Rory thought as he continued his short trip, 'and I'll take care of his itch...just not where he expects it.' The narrow road snaked around the hill; on either side were homes with garages occupying the first level. Once he arrived on Mountcrest, he made two sharp rights and stopped for a moment. Rory reached in his cargo pocket, retrieved a remote control - given to him by Harvey - and aimed it at the garage door two houses away. The door to the double garage opened as he slowly approached. Harvey's silver Mercedes sat to one side. Normally, he would ease his black Solstice into the empty spot...but tonight was different.

He immediately pressed the remote again to lower the door and avoid having any unwelcome eyes noting his arrival. Rory took off his cap, wig and glasses and carefully placed them on the seat. 'Gotta remember to toss these later,' he thought as he got out of the car and inspected the unconscious passenger. 'That extra gram of Flunitrazepam will keep him out for quite a while,' he thought as he walked to the utility door at the rear of the garage that led into the house. Harvey never locked the entry and tonight was no exception. Rory grabbed a heavy wrench from the tool bench as he passed it and opened the door. Inside was a small gym area with exercise equipment, the laundry room and a carpeted stairway that was softly lighted. From the dozens of times he had visited here, Rory knew the entire layout and Harvey's routine. The porn mogul would be waiting for him in the dramatically-lit bedroom with a circular bed and mirrored ceiling, wearing one of his many loose robe ensembles. Various toys and lube were usually positioned on the nightstand. 'No need for lube tonight,' he thought as he approached the livingroom landing. 'One more floor and bu-bye Harvey.'

Every time Rory imagined his perfect body being deformed with unwanted tattoos and hardware, he seethed with anger. 'And he wants me to be a slave bottom to some leather daddies to boot,' he thought with disgust. That the producer 'owned' him for the next five income-producing years and had ordered this image change stirred his emotions into an untempered rage. He grimaced at the thought of his dick being pierced for a P.A., in addition to all the ink that was to be applied next week. 'He wants my dick to look like some fuckin' toy for some burley bastard? I don't think so.' He arrived at the second floor hallway and noticed Harvey's door open at the end. As he approached the door, Rory recognized an energetic, old 70's rock tune that was still getting active play at the bars:

All that pressure got you down Has your head spinning all around Feel the rhythm, check the ride Come on along and have a real good time Like the days of stomping at the Savoy Now we freak, oh what a joy Just come on down, two fifty four Find a spot out on the floor

Ah, freak out Le freak, c'est chic Freak out

'Freak out now, asshole,' he thought as he stopped at the doorway and watched Harvey dancing by the bed to the loud, upbeat music. Dramatic pools of 'pin' spotlighting highlighted the bed surface, its four-poster frame, a miniaturized version of the 'David' sculpture in the corner, several ornate Rococo-style paintings and a large Louis XIV desk by the window. On the opposite wall was a complete wet bar. The colors of the room were a symphony of purples, gold and ivory.

"Rory, those ugly clothes are a strange sight," Harvey said with a smile, "but underneath, you have what I want. Come on over here and give it to your daddy." He playfully lifted his gold robe and rotated around to reveal two mounds of cellulite-pocked fat parted by his hairy crack.

"Sure, Pops." Rory kept his hands behind him and walked closer to his boss. "Got something for you."

'Your hot eight inches." Harvey turned back, leered and wiggled his eyebrows as Rory approached.

"Actually, something much bigger." Rory quickly slammed his fist into Harvey's fat-padded stomach.

A whoosh of air escaped Harvey's mouth as he doubled over, then gasped, "What the fuck..."

"Fuck this." Rory took the heavy wrench and forcefully struck Harvey's skull. A small amount of blood spurted out and landed primarily on the carpet; a separate splatter marked the wall. From his military training he was sure that one blow would be enough. 'And no blood hit me,' he observed. "And you wanted me to be a dump chute for every leather guy with a hardon?"

The older man collapsed to his knees and emitted a guttural gurgle as he keeled over. "" His breathing became shallow and a final, long gasp announced Harvey's departure from this world. A pool of blood started gathering near the wound.

Rory looked down at the lifeless form below him and studied the glazed-over eyes that stared blankly. He gripped his hand into a fist, closed his eyes and held his breath for a moment to calm down. Rory cautiously touched Harvey's jugular vein to feel for any heart activity. 'Nothing...nada,' he thought as he stepped away. 'Okay, back to the game plan.' He analyzed the scene one more time before he turned, walked over to the bar and grabbed a glass. "I'll return in a sec, Hon," he no he left.

Back in the garage, he leaned into the Mustang, took the wrench and carefully placed it in Thad's hand and wrapped the man's limp fingers around the handle. He did the same thing with the empty glass. 'That should do it,' he judged. Rory placed the barely bloody, but now fingerprint-marked, wrench on the floor by the tool bench and returned to the bedroom. Except for a more pronounced puddle of blood and the lack of any music, the scene hadn't changed. At the bar, he took the touched glass, added an ice cube and poured in some gin. The final ingredient to set the stage was the date rape drug.

He walked over to the desk area and opened the credenza. Rory was aware that all of Harvey's personal papers and Frat Loft contracts were filed in the left drawer. There was nothing filed under Rory Reed. However, alphabetically in the back was a fat file with the name "Wiedermeier, Henry". He lifted the file and fingered through its contents. In addition to several test photos and email correspondence, he found the binding agreement. 'This sucker will never be seen by anyone else,' he thought as he removed the contract. Rory replaced the file back in its place and closed the drawer. He surveyed the scene one final time while he folded the papers and stuffed them in his cargo pocket. 'So long, pal,' Rory thought. 'This is the way he'll be found in a few hours.' He knew that the housekeeper always arrived no later than 6:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

He returned to the garage and activated the garage door opener. As soon as the wide door ascended, he switched off the overhead light and walked over to the car. He noticed that Thad was still out cold as he started the engine and backed out onto the deserted street. Rory looked for a moment at the open garage and the shadow of Harvey's sedan. 'Just suspicious enough...but not too much.' He engaged the transmission and drove down a full block. At a fork in the road, on a steep downhill grade, he stopped the car. At this hour, there was no activity and most of the houses were dark. He retrieved the garage remote, and put the wig, baseball cap and glasses back on.

Moving Thad's body to the driver's seat took more time than Rory expected. Fortunately only one car passed and that was after the body had already been positioned in the seat. To anyone interested in looking, it would appear that someone was talking to the driver. After he strapped in the sleeping body, he went around to the passenger side and got in. He slipped the Mustang into gear and allowed the car to creep forward. By stretching his leg over to the brake, Rory was able to control the car's movement. He turned the wheels until they were lined up with the right fork of the road and rolled the car further. At the proper angle, he pulled the emergency brake and got out of the car. He estimated the point of impact, adjusted the wheels slightly and released the brake. Once the Mustang started its journey down the steep road, Rory started trotting down the other road - taking off the latex gloves in the process - toward his black roadster that had been left a block further along earlier in the evening.

Moments later, the noise of an impact ricocheted through the neighborhood, as metal crunched against a solid barrier. 'Probably hit a wall,' Rory guessed, 'but between the safety belt and the airbag, Brooks shouldn't get his cute bod too banged up.' He crossed the next street and got into his car. He took off the cap and glasses as the Solstice came to life, quietly pulled away from the curb and headed down the road away from the fork.

At the first intersection, he briefly got out of his car and tossed the hat and gloves into a sewer opening. Next, Rory pulled into the rear of a small, deserted strip mall. After carefully burning the contract, he opened the trunk of his car, and looked around before taking off his loose shirt and pants. He replaced these with his trademark snug, Frat Loft tee and low-rise black jeans. After throwing the other clothes in the dumpster, he was ready to return and be seen at The Abbey as Rory Reed - out on the town. This time, he would retrieve his gym bag and enter the bar through the back door. 'Need to be seen with the bag when I leave,' he thought as he considered the security camera location at the main entrance.

Flashes of memory disturbed Thad. Seeing Rory, the drink, meeting Ed, the walk to his car...a jolting and jarring lurching forward into an inflated airbag. He vaguely recalled being removed from his Mustang - after smashing into some sort of wall - and being placed on a gurney. A siren. People talking around him. The bright lights. His eyelids fluttered as he became aware of his surroundings. 'Christ,' Thad thought as he turned his head and focused his vision, 'it's almost like I'm on the set of ER.'

"Mr. Brooks, I see you're coming around."

Thad looked in the direction of the voice and saw a man in scrubs. Behind that man was another man in a business suit. "Ah, yeah. Where am I?" He could see daylight coming through a window. "What time is it and who are you?"

"You're at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and it's Saturday morning...just about 8:00. I'm Dr. Jacobi, the resident on duty."

"Wow, I seem to have almost 12 hours missing in my memory." Thad looked down at his chest and then scanned the rest of his body. He became aware that he had a tube stuck in his arm, along with a couple of wires. He moved his arms and shifted his legs. 'Nothing seems to be broken,' he decided. 'Only a dull, throbbing pounding in my head.' "What am I doing in a hospital?"

"Mr. Brooks...Detective Lamanna from LAPD - Hollywood division. You up for a few questions?" He turned to the doctor, who nodded.

"I guess." Thad watched as the doctor made a few notations on a chart and left the room. "Can I have some water?" He slowly sat up and moved up on the bed until the headboard supported him.

"Thirsty, are you?" Lamanna poured water into a glass and handed it to Thad. "Let's get the basics out of the way first. You're James Thaddeus Brooks and reside at 1417 North Vista Street?"

"That's me." Thad nodded and wondered what this was all about. 'I'm having a drink with Rory, get woozy and leave the bar with some stranger and the next thing I know, I'm waking up in a hospital room with a detective,' he thought as he sipped at the water. 'And the detective isn't even cute.'

"You were in an auto accident up in the hills. I must also say that evidence suggests you may be involved in a homicide."

"Homicide?" Thad gasped. His reasoning powers were becoming sharper and his curiosity was instantaneously aroused. "As in..."

"Murder." Lamanna clicked his ballpoint pen and added, "And you appear to be the prime suspect. Therefore, I must inform you that you have the right to remain silent, and that anything you say may be used against you in court; you have the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if you can't afford one, an attorney will be provided at no cost. Do you understand?"

"My God, I have nothing to hide." Thad paused as numerous episodes of Law and Order flashed through his mind and the times he had heard the actors recite the Miranda Rights. "I understand, but I'm totally innocent. The only thing I can't put together is being at the bar last night around 9:00 or so and then wakening here just a few minutes ago. The whole time's a blank." He sat up straighter and took another sip of water.


"Um, yeah. The Abbey on Robertson. It's a..."

"Gay bar off Santa Monica. I'm aware of it," Lamanna replied in a matter of fact manner. "I work frequently with the sheriff's unit in West Hollywood."

"I was there with my friend, Benny Siegel. After he left, a guy I only know slightly stopped by and bought me a drink. He went to take a pee and I started feeling not so hot. Some stranger came along and helped me out of the bar and to my car." Thad frowned and asked, "Auto accident in the hills? This involved my car and another vehicle?"

"Actually, you collided with a retaining wall at the end of a street. Your Mustang is quite a mess... but enough of that. Fortunately, you were wearing a seatbelt and the airbag inflated upon impact. So, except for a few scrapes, there's no physical damage. Where you cracked up your car was just down the hill from the victim's house. You sure you're up to answering some more questions?"

"I suppose." Thad frowned at the thought of his 16-year-old convertible being wrecked. 'Christ, how am I going to get around town?' he wondered. 'That is, if they don't lock me in the slammer. But more important, how am I going to explain this to my dad?'

"Now, I must ask what your relationship was with the deceased, Harvey Milhous Fine?"

"Harvey's dead?" Thad pondered this news and shook his head. "My exposure to a total of two days this week." He stopped to collect his thoughts. "I was employed to work as a production grip on a video film he was making and quit on Thursday. Fortunately, I got hired yesterday for a really neat job...that's legit filmmaking." He stopped and questioned that yesterday was actually Friday.

"Let's go back to Thursday. This was a video for Frat Loft Productions?"

"Yes. They make adult videos and own some pay-for-view websites on the 'net. I took the temporary job because I needed income until a real job came along."

"Tell me about the reason you quit," the detective asked as he busily wrote on a well-fingered pad of paper.

"I guess the official term would be sexual harassment in the work place. Harvey ordered me to, um, take care of the male star' You know, a fluffer. He wanted me to orally get Rory's penis primed for a scene. I freaked out and quit on the spot...after a few choice words...and left the place."

"The studio over in the Valley?" Lamanna prompted. "And Rory is who?"

"His stage name is Rory Reed. His real name honestly don't remember. But he was a Marine up to about ten months least that was the gossip on the set."

"I think I'm familiar with the guy from some billboards around town and we can track him down. So what happened after you quit? I want names and all the details you can remember."

For the next half hour, Thad pieced together his movements and actions of the previous two days. He included the interview with Doug DiMarco at Warner Brothers and the new job. The rambling story was interrupted several times by the detective with pointed questions. Thad re-told the detective the specifics of the conversation with his roommate, Benny Siegel, at The Abbey and the chance meeting with Rory Reed. Thad was frustrated that he couldn't remember much about the stranger, Ed, and exiting the bar.

"Ed seems to be a key in this incident," Lamanna remarked. "What exactly do you remember about him?"

"I dunno. He was wearing a baseball cap over his dark hair and sunglasses. Tall - at least six feet or more - and had some sort of east coast accent. Maybe New York?" Tad shrugged and frowned. "I wish I could be more helpful but I was kinda zonked out at that point."

"I'll work with these details for the time being. You got Siegel's cell number?"

"323-555-1318. He should be home sleeping in." Thad decided he needed to call Benny as soon as possible.

"Got it," Lamanna said as he wrote down the information. "And the last thing you remember is being walked to your car by this Ed character?"

"I was becoming very dizzy. I recall the drink Rory bought me tasted rather strange. He said it was some sort of gin imported from somewhere. I wasn't drunk or anything. It just hit I was drugged. I hardly know him and thought it was strange how friendly he was in the bar. But I don't have the foggiest idea why he'd want me knocked out. It certainly wasn't to get in my pants."

"Pants I don't know about. Blood tests should verify your suspicions of being drugged. So who was this guy, Ed, who helped you out to your car?" Lamanna poised his pen and stared at Thad.

"I dunno. As I told you, Rory had to go to the john and the last thing I remember is being led out of the bar and to my car by this tall guy, Ed. Funny...he looked sorta familiar to me. But the sunglasses hid his face and I couldn't make out shit in my condition." Thad understood why the detective was picking apart his statement but he was starting to get pissed off.

"That may have been the planned result." Lamanna paused and put down his notepad. "Mr. Brooks, I should inform you that your fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime. In Mr. Fine's home."

"Detective, I've never been to his place in my life. Don't even know where Fine lives...lived. That's the honest-to-God truth. And now I'm in a hospital with a splitting headache." Thad wrinkled his forehead and thought, 'Christ. I'm in some real deep shit.'

"I'll ask the nurse to bring something for your head. You don't remember striking the victim in his bedroom? Maybe a continuation of the argument you two had on Thursday?"

"Absolutely not," Thad answered emphatically. "That crap was behind me and I had just been hired for a fantastic new job. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to set me up. I only know stuff from what I've seen in movies and TV, but my fingerprints had to have been planted to be found like that." He took a deep breath and asked, "Am I under arrest?" He was getting a very nervous feeling that things were not going well.

"Not yet. You are, however, a person of extreme interest. I'm going to investigate your story and order more tests here at the hospital. You'll be under medical care until this afternoon. When I return, we'll see where we stand."

"How about my car?"

"It's been towed to our garage for further inspection."

"I'd better call my roommate so he knows where I am." Thad frowned as he wondered whether or not to call his dad in Phoenix. 'Crap,' he thought, 'I hope I'm still on his medical insurance.'

"The phone is right next to you. I think you need to dial 'nine' for an outside line. Just make sure you stay put until I return and make a further determination as to your status." Lamanna retracted the ballpoint pen and secured it in his coat pocket, along with the pad. "In the meantime, enjoy some hospital cooking. You probably missed breakfast but lunch should be along in a short while." He studied Thad for a moment before walking out of the room.

Thad was trying to recall the events of the previous evening when a nurse brought in two pills and a cup of water, interrupting his thoughts. He thanked her, eagerly ingested the painkillers and refilled his cup from the water pitcher sitting to the side of his bed. "Ahhh," he sighed as the nurse left. 'Man, I was really thirsty,' he thought as he reached for the telephone and dialed Benny's cell phone number. 'Hope he doesn't have it turned off so he can sleep in.'

"Morning," Benny answered with a yawn. "You must have been out celebrating - or did you get laid?"

"Unfortunately, neither. Got a few minutes? I've got some very serious, major problems."

"First, where are you?"

" a hospital bed. Apparently I wrecked my car and that's just for openers."

"Hospital? Are you...?"

"Doing fine. Just shook up and a little drowsy." For the next few minutes, Thad recapped the events of the past 12 hours including the just finished interview with Detective Lamanna.

"Holy cow, that sounds crazy."

"Yeah, like a bad CSI script," Thad replied with a tinge of sarcasm. "I just can't figure out why I'm being set up, where this stud, Rory, fits in...and who the fuck Ed is? Lamanna said he would be contacting you at some point today while he investigates the murder. So far I'm not under arrest but it doesn't look good. Is there any way you can bring some clothes and my flip-flops to the hospital? Seems like I pretty well trashed my clothes in the crash...and no jokes about me not needing clothes where I'm going."

"Don't even think about jail. Here's my schedule and the reason I'm up. Jim Weiss asked me to come into the office this morning to messenger some contracts over to a couple of our clients. I need to do that, then I can probably get over to the hospital around noon. How does that sound?"

"Good. I'm not going anywhere."

"Thad, do you mind if I mention your situation to Jim? It sounds like you might need some legal advice and my boss is plugged into a pretty sharp law firm."

" whatever you think might help. But I gotta tell you, a show biz lawyer is probably the last thing I need."

"Chill...this firm also has legal beagles who specialize in criminal law. Shit, buddy, I shouldn't have used 'criminal'."

"Might as well be realistic," Thad replied with a sigh. "But I can't afford some hotshot lawyer. And my dad is pretty tapped out from buying a new house."

"Don't worry about money. The main thing is to get you out of this mess..."

"And save my job with Doug DiMarco's film."

_"I'm on this like brown gravy on white rice, but first, I gotta hit the shower and be at the office in a half hour. Saying 'not to worry' trivializes your problem because this is serious shit. Don't fret...I'm calling out the Cavalry." _

"If John Wayne shows up I'll poop in my pants. Whoops, I'm not wearing pants...just some gown that's open in the back." Thad snickered a little at the thought of John Wayne showing up in a Cavalry uniform.

"There you go. A little sense of humor is good to hear. See ya around noon. You can share some of the Jell-O you'll probably be fed for lunch. Bye."

After he placed the telephone receiver back in its cradle, Thad reviewed the events again. He was now convinced that Rory had put something in his drink and this Ed guy had somehow set him up for the murder. 'They must have been working together. Wonder why they wanted Harvey dead?' he thought as the nurse returned, 'and why did they choose me as the fall guy? It just doesn't compute.' He was becoming upset that he couldn't remember many details.

"Mr. Brooks, the doctor approved the removal of the IV and monitors. If you want to get cleaned up, there's a small shower in the bathroom," the nurse said as she pointed to a closed door. "And on the sink is an overnight kit that includes a razor, shaving cream, toothbrush and paste."

"Thank you, I'll do just that." Thad watched as the tube and wires were removed.

"Just be careful of the bandages over your arm lacerations. While you're showering, I'll have a breakfast tray and a fresh gown left in your room." She put a small Band-Aid over the vein puncture and asked, "Is there anything else you need?"

"No, that's fine. I appreciate everything." Thad decided not to bother asking for a newspaper because Harvey Fine's murder occurred after the final edition anyway. 'Wonder if the local TV channels have daytime newscasts? I've never watched anything during the day on weekends other than sports.'

The shower and shave was a refreshing, if brief, distraction. He put on the clean hospital gown and sat in the side chair to eat some fruit and cereal that had been placed on his bedside table. Afterwards, Thad lay back in bed. His mind kept going over what details he could, to try and uncover any further pieces of his personal puzzle. 'I remember Ed getting the car keys from my pocket, lifting me and...nothing else until I woke up. Then I...' Thad drifted off to sleep, putting reality on hold.

"Hey, pal, reinforcements have arrived," a voice softly announced.

"What?" Thad slowly opened one eye, then the other. His technicolored dream in the tropics was abruptly replaced by the reality of a sterile hospital room. "Benny, good to see you. Guess I zonked out." He stretched and yawned as he sat up in bed.

"Like you didn't need it." Benny sat on the side of the bed and added, "You look pretty good...considering. And judging from the tent in your crotch, I can see that everything is working."

"Christ, you're such a perv," Thad said with a chuckle. He adjusted himself to appear somewhat more presentable and added, "Thanks for coming."

"The paper bag in the corner contains a clean tee, underwear, cargo shorts and your flip-flops."

"You're on time but not for lunch." Thad noticed the wall clock had just hit noon. "Sorry I can't offer you any Jell-O or pudding."

"Did somebody mention lunch?" came a different voice from the doorway. "I took the liberty of picking up some food at Jerry's."

Thad looked at the doorway and watched as a man walked into the room. His mouth dropped open when he realized who the man was. "Uh, Mr. Williams, this is a surprise." Seeing the sexy, former movie star, heartthrob of women everywhere - and many gay men - coming closer took Thad by surprise. It was almost like Brad Williams had stepped out of a Tommy Bahama ad. Behind him was a slender, trim man dressed in a beige polo and black Dockers.

"I could give a variation of that line, 'I'm a lawyer, and I've played one in the movies', but I'll save that for another time." Brad Williams set the sacks of food on the bedside table and continued, "I know you're Thad Brooks, Doug's new second director, and that you've inherited some ball-breaking problems. By the way, let's just go by first names." The retired actor, now a noted entertainment lawyer, smiled and extended his hand.

"Hi, Brad." Thad took the man's hand and shook it. "It's great to meet you...I'm just a little overwhelmed."

"I'll take the credit, or the blame, for getting Brad involved," Benny stated. "I told your story to Jim Weiss when I got to the office and he called Doug right away. You must have impressed Mr. DiMarco because he found a lawyer for you."

"Let's not get too overly dramatic." Brad chuckled and added, "Doug wants to help you out of this jam and I was the nearest free lawyer available on a Saturday. Doug's sorry he couldn't get away from the studio, but will call you later when he's free."

"You don't know how much I appreciate this..." Thad was going to add 'Sir' but decided the respectful title was too formal after Brad had said to use first names. "Although it looks the opposite, I'm completely innocent."

"Don't worry. Depending on what the detective discovers and the D.A.'s office decides to do, our firm has a crack group of sharks who specialize in criminal law."

"I feel better already." Thad made sure he was covered and swung his legs around so he could sit on the side of the bed. He remembered that Jim, Doug and Brad had all served together in the Navy. 'Thank God for networking,' he thought, 'because I need all the help I can get.'

"The man behind me is Oleg Petrov. He's associated with an international security firm and is the best P.I. in town. We're also good friends."

"Mr. Brooks...Thad... from what I've heard from Benny, this case smells to high heaven," Oleg Petrov said as he grabbed Thad's hand and squeezed very firmly. "If you don't mind, please give us a rundown of what you remember. I know you gave the detective a statement but one more time might stir your memory and shake out a few more details."

"Okay." Thad quickly checked out Oleg Petrov as he might a youngish actor for a character role in an action drama. At first glance, the medium-height P.I. appeared to be around 30. However, as he studied Petrov's eyes and light facial lines closer, Thad revised his estimate. 'He's probably in his late-30's and doesn't appear to have an ounce of fat anywhere. Clean-cut in a post-preppy sort of way. Except for high Slavic cheekbones, he has a pleasant face, but otherwise unremarkable features that would blend in with a crowd.' Oleg's light brown hair was cut short and his tanned forearms led up to well-muscled biceps. His greenish-blue eyes projected a subtle, sexy 'don't-fuck-with-me' image. 'Petrov would be a good second lead in a Bourne movie,' he judged, 'one of the good guys, with scarred emotional baggage.'

"We can eat the food I brought. You're not on a restricted diet and the nice carrot cake I dropped off for the nurse's station did wonders. Everything is approved." Brad pointed to the sacks on the table and added, "You have a choice of pastrami on rye or turkey on wheat, cole slaw and fresh kosher dills. And Oleg has the water or diet soda."

"Might as well start with half a turkey sandwich," Thad replied. He ate at Jerry's Famous Deli on Beverly Boulevard frequently and knew their portions were humungous. He watched as Brad pulled out the sandwiches and spread the wrapped food out on the table. By the time all the other food, plastic utensils and napkins were set up with the beverages, it looked like a miniature 'craft services' catering table on a movie set.

Thad used the time while Brad set up the food in order to become familiar with the new people in his life. He winked at Benny and silently signaled his gratitude. Not only would he have some professionals on his side to sort out this mess, but also Doug DiMarco was showing his support by involving his life partner.

"Very well, let's get started," Oleg said around his mouth full of food. "I want all the details and names you can think of."

The story got easier and seemed less like fantasy the third time around. Oleg interrupted occasionally to check a particular point. By the time Thad was finished, it was almost 1:00 p.m.

"This detective - Joe Lamanna - is a fair man and a friend. I did find out the LAPD is treating this as a home invasion incident for the moment. And the auto accident is completely separate, so the press isn't connecting the dots yet. Believe me, that's in your favor. I'm going to call Joe on the Q.T. and find out what's happening." Oleg took another swig of water and asked, "Do you remember the guy who runs the Frat Loft office."

"His name is Andrew, but everyone calls him Andy." Thad frowned and shook his head. "I can't remember the last name but I have his card in my computer desk at home. It has his cell number, too."

"Then I suggest this." Oleg set down the water bottle and reached for a napkin. "I'll go over to your place with Benny and find the card. Andy could be a major lead concerning Harvey, Rory and the business in general. This Ed dude, who took you out of the bar, is the key. Looks like Ed and Rory were working together on this. Brad, do you have anything to add?"

"Only that I've put in a call to our head guy in the criminal department," Brad replied with a reassuring nod, "and this is his business card. When the detective comes back, don't hesitate to use this card if things get hairy. Here's one of my cards with all my personal contact numbers, too. We've all got your back covered."

"And allow me to add my card," Oleg added. "We'll get to the bottom of this."

"I guess all I can do is wait. Detective Lamanna will be back in a couple of hours." Thad stood up and shook hands with everyone. Benny gave him an intense hug and kissed him on the cheek. 'I'm so lucky to have good friends,' Thad thought, as he picked up the debris after everyone had gone, 'old and new.'

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