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Hollywood Havoc - The Trouble with Fat Boy
Serial Number 1
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-582-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fiction/Adventure/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 210 Pages
Published: June 2008



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Total Readers: 2

From inside the flap

Hollywood Havoc

In
The Trouble With
FAT BOY


An Exciting New
Matinee Episodic Thriller
by John Klawitter


Clever and energetic Matt Havoc thought heíd seen everything. As long-time assistant to B-movie Hollywood film mogul Vinnie Berger, heís learned to think quick and move fast. But when his quirky old neighbor goes into business with Nigerian scam artists who just may be terrorists, Matt finds himself a player in a deadly plot with more twists than one of Vinnieís movies.

As if that wasnít enough, both a new love and a gorgeous and sexy ex-wife come back into Mattís life at the same time. Something has to giveóor does it? After all, this is Tinseltown, where survival is an art form and youíre only good as your last picture.

Reviews and Awards

Winner of the 2009 Eppie for Best Action/Adventure:

MR Review†
HOLLYWOOD HAVOC: The Trouble With Fat Boy†
by John Klawitter


Matthew Havoc has long been in love/lust with his neighbor Bertie's high strung granddaughter Julia. Julia calls him "Idiot boy" among other things but does agree to help him since Old Gramps comes up missing and they have a hunch they know who took him and why. Add in Matt's boss, Vinnie Berger of Berger Royal pictures (aka King of the B-Movies, producer of such wonders as "Chop of Death," and "Keg's War" to name a few), Matt's ex-wife "America's Favorite Set," the bad Nigerian guys and Dim Eddie the gate guard (aptly named) and you have one hoot of a book. Turns out that Matt's dad wasn't just a screenwriter after all (who knew?) he was a bad guy himself óbut on our side and he didn't die in a boating accident. He was murdered.

I usually am not fond of first-person books, but this one caught me on page one and didn't let go. The way the author keeps tossing in quotes from Matt's cruddy movies and the way the plot is finally played out make this book well worth your time. I recommend†Hollywood Havoc†for several reasons: the humor is fantastic and the plot is greatóa new idea and great writing style. I believe the author has more of the series in the works. Should be a hit!

Hollywood Havoc - The Trouble with Fat Boy (Excerpt)


An Episodic Matinee Thriller

HOLLYWOOD HAVOC

Episode One

The Trouble With

FAT BOY



Chapter 1

The icy black water hit me like a cold body slam. I rolled over and over, panicked in the dark with blind-folded eyes and air bubbles frothing around my ears. Which way was up? I had no idea. You know, the experts always tell you the bubbles go up, but in the inky blackness itís all upÖor down, or sideways.

My hands were tied, but I could kick some with my feet. One foot struck the hard edge of a slippery ledge. Okay, maybe that way was downÖor sideways. I felt for the rocky ledge, crouched, gathered myself in a ball, and pushed off.

Iíd guessed right; the surface came with a rush. I managed to suck in a quick gasp of air. I shook off the bath towel the bastards had taped around my head for a make-shift blindfold, and saw the dark line of the shore directly in front of me-and the black outline of my two assailants standing there, laughing like I was some new electronic sports game and expectantly hopeful I would sink out of sight, never to be seen again. I kicked desperately and shook my head, an attempt to clear the water from my ears.

"What shall we do, do you think?" I heard the one on the left say, as if they were discussing dinner plans or who might take out the garbage. Yeah, thatís me, the garbage.

"I say pop him," the one on the right replied.

"No, no, no. Heís too close to shore. Heíll just drift back in."

"Well now, old chap, I could not disagree more. After all, heíll drift, either way."

Wait a minute. What the hell was I doing here? Me, Matthew Havoc. Okay, they call me Hollywood Havoc, but this is way past some of the minor schemes and scrapes I get into. I am a small-time Hollywood movie producer. Small beans, very little sauce. I work for Berger Royal, and we do schlock movies. We donít even own our own stages, for Christís sake; we rent space on the Raleigh lot below Sunset in what is affectionately known as íOld Hollywoodí. And I certainly wasnít here to star as the drowning man in my own movie.

"Wait," I gasped in a bubbly, confused shout. "Itís not my fault. I donít really pick the scripts!" That was a lie, of course. At least part a lie. I do help pick the scripts. Okay, Iíll admit it. If anybody deserved to be shot for producing imitative, cheese-ball movies, it is me.

Oh, oh! I see a yellow flash and the sharp bark of a pistol. Jesus H. Christ! The crazy-ass mudder-humpers are shooting at me! Why canít they just get their refund at the box office? Yeah, I know. This isnít about the movies. This is too serious. This is attempted murder. Hell, this is about to be my murder. But making movies has been my life and I canít figure out what else it could be. I pay my taxes, I donít do dope, I donít have any powerful enemies. Another quick gulp of air and I kick down and away. The dark water wraps icy fingers around me, and I do my best to put distance between the shore and myself. My arms, of course, are useless bound the way they are. By now, Iím desperate for air. I force myself, I kick, kick, kick, giving it that old Havoc try, even though I can feel the burning pain surge through my lungs.

But the gods are smiling on me, at least to the extent that there is a favorable undertow, and this time when I come to the surface there is about ninety feet between me and my two friends, the nonchalant shooters making a game out of taking me out. Just ninety feet, the distance from home plate to the pitcherís mound. Still, better than nothing.

"Oh, sporting chance!" the one waving the pistol says.

` "Allow me. Iím the better shot," the other replies, and they grapple for it.

"No, idiot. I am."

Theyíre wrestling over the pistol, and I judge that to be a good thing. . I gulp air and pump my feet while they amiably wrestle for the right to kill me.

I shouldnít have to repeat that I donít deserve this. But theyíre not listening, and my complaints arenít true in the first place. Off-hand, I can think of a dozen reasons you should find some slow and horrible way to kill me. Look, if youíre going to shoot me for anything, it should be that doomed scene in Dragonfly Madness where the fake model helicopter (possessed by demonic influences) comes down on Metropolis like a limp beetle. On the other hand, I didnít have the budget to do anything better, and we had to finish the picture or lose a payment, and we at Berger Royal never miss our play dates or our pay dates. Or maybe you might want to send me to the torture chamber for that rotten tomato film we did called Klish Clash, with its garbage can lid musical numbers, one of our few attempts at social parody. The miserable failure of these individual productions aside, I stand accused-and rightly so-of living for my job, but there have been times when Iíve thought itís a great job. Iím assistant jack-of-all-trades to the great Hollywood mogul of B-movie schlock, the one and only Vincent Berger, known in the trade as Slick Vinnie or Vinnie-the-Cheap. To me heís just Vinnie, a skin-flint at spending money on his pictures and a heart of gold for every sob-story starlet who comes his way.

Iím Matt Havoc, Hollywood Havoc, the solver of all problems cinematic, the sho-biz guy who gets things done. They should give out an honor like that at ShoWest. Maybe they would from now on, in honor of me and my watery death.

Flashes from the pistol are starting up again, so I gulp more air and head back down to my bad ending. My enemies in the business will tell you I deserve this.

They say the life I lead is crap, and that the movies I help turn out are basically stupid and unwatchable. I will admit this much: At Vinnieís shop, Berger Royal Pictures, we create nothing but low-budget exploiters. Yes, thatís what we do, and weíre the very best at it, and thereís a market for it. Come on, Iím supposed to be ashamed for making a living? As Vinnieís fond of saying, Art, schmart, who gives a fart?

As I am down there underwater thinking these and similar thoughts, I somehow come out of my confusion long enough to allow the immediate panic to subside. My lungs, I realize, arenít actually bursting and I can probably go a ways before I have to surface again. Yes, it is dark and cold and scary, but as I kick along I try to review how I could possibly have gotten into this mess. How did I, the cleverest low-budget guy in Hollywood, a guy who could create budgets as if by magic, dodge location fee cops, satisfy cast sexual appetites (My black book is legendary), find free parking and feed a cast and crew on the run, ever allow something this stupid to happen?

Earlier in the afternoon, just a few hours before, Iíd been in Little Saigon looking for locations for a new picture that wasnít even green-lighted. I didnít find anything half-way decent or even exciting enough to snap a digital, and Iíd driven back south to Newport Beach where I lived. I was returning to my condo, absent-mindedly ambling along the short gray cobblestone walkway that I share with my long-time neighbor Bertrand Burke, semi-affectionately known as íOld Bertieí or íOld Grampers,í when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the shattered frame of the old cootís front entrance, where his sturdy door used to be. For a moment the image didnít compute, and then I had what the Hollywood story guys call the bad inkling, the heroís first hint that things are not quite as they should be.

Let me move this along and try to sum it up here for you before I drown. Iím a thirty four year old journeyman Hollywood producer. I can do-have to do-everything. I know how to write and direct. Iíve been called on to shoot film when the cinematographer gets the runs or the flu or doesnít come back from a hot weekend in Acapulco. Yes, I am the complete film maker, a MacGyver of the silver screen, the guy who pulls off the impossible shots with bubble gum and a ball of yarn. You know, My mind is the secret weapon. Well, enough of that. Obviously, it isnít, or I wouldnít be here, sinking to the bottom of the bay. Letís get back to more Hollywood gossip about me.

I am divorced, a half-dozen years or so ago, from a self-absorbed, gum-chewing, teenage vixenÖat least, thatís who she was when we took our vows. I guess I knew. Like the country-western ballads lament, What was I thinking? Actually, I wasnít thinking, at least, not with my brain. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment Hollywood weddings doomed to failure from the firstÖwell, read the gossip rags while youíre standing in line at the supermarket, you know how it goes in show biz. Still, ours wasnít your usual bang-and-run story. We were actually destroyed by successÖhers, not mine. Soon after our wedding, the career of the lady of my affections began to blossom, and she forthwith lifted herself like a gaudy hot air balloon right past my cheapie flicks to her present rarified altitude as one of Americaís most ogled and highly paid set of tits available on the silver screen, that is, short of triple-X. Today sheís known as Joy Benefetť, but when I first knew her she was Madge Sacknall, an auburn-haired theater and drama major with a great body and a wicked grin, a gorgeous starlet who couldnít sing a single note on key. Not that she didnít try, but it was painful. I affectionately called her Peanuts, and in the beginning I was glad of the singing because it meant she wasnít perfect. The other cracks in the dam showed up a little later.

Okay. Another gulp of air, another bit of my story. About the time Peanuts married me, fat, bald, Big Vinnie introduced her to fat, bald, little Super-Agent Harry "Horny" Hyatt. It was Christmas, and Vinnie was in one of his magnanimous moments. However, since Berger Royal Pictures had been the kiss of death for many a young star, Hornyís HHH Agency repaid the favor by christening her Joy Benefetť and moving her out of our shop.

Of course, Vinnie resented the move. He thought of Berger Pix as one of the few training grounds for greatness, and maybe he was right. If Steve McQueen could rise above his performance in The Blob, Peanuts ought to be able to gain artistic recognition with the lead role in Mission 998, a hot babes in wet T-shirts in outer space spectacular we had planned for her. Vinnie was moved to righteous indignation. He would have loved to squeeze another picture or two out of that magnificent set before she moved them on to the silk and caviar mob.

Iím not the best judge of these things, having lived too close to the feisty fact of Peanuts in person, and there may have been a certain sense in which you might call my ex-wife morally weak, perhaps lacking in strength of character-but you would never call her weak-willed or lacking purpose. Strong as iron comes to mind. Relentless and even reckless in pursuit of her career, certainly. She knew what she wanted, and she knew how to get it. That made me something of a way-station on her golden path.

When Horny Hiatt told her she was ready to walk around the next bend, she believed it. And the rest of our relationship was Extra-Extra history, that is, food for the paraparazzi, Extra Extra and The Insider. Madge Sacknall emerged from her cocoon as the beautiful, generally nearly-naked butterfly Joy Benefetť. Her exit from Berger Royal Pictures and my bedroom, was followed by her steady and relentless climb to a sort of lower rung stardom. Cheap, that is to say, because my ex-wife became known and appreciated for the lift, weight and luminosity of her perfect breasts rather than for her acting. And frankly, I believed that was unfair; I knew her better than most, and I saw that, somewhere inside all those curves and that wicked smile, and devious, unrelenting thirst for stardom, my girl Peanuts really had acting ability. How much, I wasnít sure. But the director in me sensed something there that went considerably beyond the luminosity of the flesh..

I told her just that, a time or two, but by then it was too late. She said things like, I was just trying to hold her back. I was cruel, uncaring, selfish. And, to tell the truth, after a few months of that, I gave up trying to make a go of it. I had my own grueling schedule. Schlock films wait for no man. Things having become what they had, the two of us were less and less an item around town. Busy lives, separate directions. We drifted apart and separated after a year or two, but we didnít seem to get around to the divorce until a half dozen years later, and when it finally happened it was almost an afterthought. Sheíd been about to dive into matrimony in the classic Hollywood manner, tying a hasty knot (not unlike we ourselves had, but this time) with some dark-haired and flashing-eyed Italian cinematic heartthrob. And then the Enquirer took an interest, researched the files and found out she was still technically married to me. As they say in the big scene where the complication becomes clear, Oh, oh.

Give me a moment here; oxygen seems to be at a premium. A few kicks, another gulp of air, a few more flashes from the now receding shore. Okay. Better now. On with the narration: Long time before, my father, Jack Havoc, was in the film business, too, but he worked for the studios, and he had better credits than I do. Vinnie had known him, and thatís how I landed my first job as Vinnieís go-fer, back when I was just out of film school.

Let me tell you about Vinnie Burger. Yes, heís that important. Vinnie, himself, is a larger-than-life personality. He tops over six foot five inches. He carries an enormous girth, and an ability to be amused in the direst of circumstances, and an even bigger talent for squeezing production money out of hitherto untapped sources. Greece. Romania. South Africa. A giant used car dealership in Pomona. All this, combined with a huge appetite for spending his production monies on Bentley sports cars, big sailing boats, and lavish gifts for wannabe starlets he findsÖwell, everywhere. Yes, he spends on those splendid luxury items rather than on the production itself, and with my help, he manages to hide the financial drain. Our movies look decent on paper but for these and other reasons turn out to be potboilers that play in the last three or four drive-in theaters in Canada and Mexico and then ship directly to Hong Kong, Seoul and Jakarta. Vinnieís a rogue-but heís got a sense of honor, life alternately outrages and amuses him, and, as had my father before me, I have the bad judgment to like him very much.

I guess I am drifting here, things getting a little fuzzy. I donít see the light yet, though. Jennifer Love Hewlett, the lady who wears those skimpy negligees on Ghost Whisperer, says that when you see the light you are to go for it, and then I guess you pass through the veil or something and youíre dead but happy. I was thinking maybe you donít see the light if youíre headed to hell, and, after all, only dogs and Oscar Winners Go To Heaven.

Right, right, my story in a martini glassÖletís see if I can gulp it down, get through it before Iím fish food. After over a decade of doing hard time as Vinnieís right hand man, Iíve arrived to where Iím pulling down the producer or co-producer credit on almost every crap film we do. Itís a little strange, because I always thought the producerís title would be the end of the world for me, my golden ticket. But when you do great B movies, that isnít necessarily so. Lately what the literary novelists call malaise has set in on my normally indomitable spirit. I find that more and more I want to write, not just screenplays but short stories and novels. Less crap, more meaningful stories.

I even daydream of retiring from my career as the clever slave-laborer who cleans up Vinnieís messes. In my dreams the serious people, those who make their way in the world of real ideas and literature, take me seriously. I donít have shouting matches over putting the key light at boob level, I have conversations about literature and art, and a New York agent who doesnít always ask Okay, guy, how many sex scenes we got here?

I know youíre not asking, but in case you were, Sure, Hollywood agents love me, at least the lesser known ones do (Dogs are even attracted to guys who have smaller yummies to hand out). But in my dreams, Iím a long way removed from here-no, not underwater-far removed from my current position as co-captain at the helm of inconsequential Berger Royal bubbles of action/adventure and pot boiling sexual fantasy. Youíve got it by now-Iím lost in what Vinnie calls the Fairyland of Tits & Ass, the land where sex, dope and even blurbs in the Hollywood Reporter can be negotiated for a screen credit. That means, of course, the immortal soul (or at least the carefully hoarded life savings) of a famous used car dealer in Pacoima may be sold for a name above the title. I know where I want to end up, and this is not it.

Enough about me. After all, Iím drowning here. You can read the obit in The Hollywood Reporter. On the other hand, Iím sure Bertrand Berke, my neighbor, is the one who got me into this. Old Bertieís your ordinary, garden-variety, querulous semi-retired old fart living on a fixed income of maybe slightly larger than normal proportions. I would cast Walter Matthau, if he was still around and hadnít already walked happily into the light. I may sound cruel, but I like Bertie too, more than I will ever admit in his presence. In a way, for him itís all over, his life is a finished history rather than any blank new pages to be filled. At least, thatís what I thought, up until this afternoon. Ironic, isnít it? Iím the guy drowning here and Iíd been thinking Old Bertie was the gone goose.

A widower for the last five of his 80 years, Bertrandís backed away from his middle-aged twin sons, who nearly simultaneously decided to go for the gay life, though not with each other. Not that they didnít fool around, but they never made it official. That would have killed Old Grampers. right there. The twin pervs, Bertrand calls them, trying for light-hearted malice. Back when he first got the bad news, he recoiled like a man with a couple of spiders in his soup. Today, the twins are out of range, both drifting quietly along in long-term relationships somewhere on the East Coast. Or at least thatís the going story, and as The Man Hemingway would say, it would be pleasant to assume so. You wouldnít think Bertrand was a person who could get himself tangled in a dangerous and deadly mess and then pull me in with him-but real life has an enormously unpredictable plot-line, have you noticed?

I cannot recall how many times in the early morning Iíd be staggering in from pulling a post-production all-nighter at MatchFrame or Pacific Video, and Old Bertie would be out there in front of his condo in his multi-colored Bermuda shorts and Wall Street Journal T-shirt, the one with the spotty white bleach stains. Like as not, heíd be staring up at the gutters, cursing the pigeons or the bats. Some decades before, Bertrand had invested in a clothing company appropriately named Crazy Wear, and he had stacks of cardboard boxes in his garage crammed full of gaudy clothing you couldnít even sell for profit in third world countries that had never heard of Ralph Lauren or Hugo Black. Lord knows heíd tried.

"Paper in the banana tree again?" Iíd ask. But no, this time it was the bats.

"Bats are filthy creatures, Matthew Havoc. Pestilence. Spawn of the devil. And itís not a banana tree, itís a bird-of-paradise gone wild."

"You think all plants would go wild if you didnít drench them in Miracle-Gro."

Thatís all it took. Old Bertie would launch from there, selecting from his list of the many things large and small that provoked him, sputtering about cruel and unusual property taxes, the growing hordes of greedy wetbacks up from every province in Mexico to take California back, and the inferior quality of the potted plants the condo gardeners-notice the sneaky bastards all speak Spanish when nobody is looking-stick in our front flowerboxes to mark the passing seasons (Coral, cream and light-purple geraniums in February and orange and yellow-and-brown chrysanthemums in August, Southern California being a two-season place).

"Right, Bertrand," I would say. "You got a point there."

"Jesus-God-Damn right, I do," he would agree, grumbling as he moved off to water his spindly over-fertilized citrus tree with a garden hose.

Iím too busy to be Mister Nice Guy, but I found it impossible to ignore the crusty old fellow who, in all fairness, had to walk around the heavy stacks of film cans, video cassettes and scripts that FedEx dumped at my doorstep on a fairly regular basis. I donít think Bertrand minded, because it was some proof that I did real work, though I think he assumed I was more responsible for the shipment, rather than the creation of, the films and videos inside the parcels.

I knew him to a greater degree than Iím saying. At Bertrandís insistence, we had a procedure in case of his business emergencies, and once Iíd even had the chance to put it to the test. He was in Mexico City when a man called from Brazil desperately needing a bid on a mobile X-ray unit. I tried to get through to Bertrand, but you know the South-of-the-Border telephone system. Hey, the guy needed a bid, and he needed it right away. I made up a page of numbers, figuring a piece of machinery like that being mobile and all might cost about as much as a six or seven minute Willie Nelson music video or a short but highly sensuous promo film for my ex-wifeís latest flick.

I must have been in the ballpark, because the guy gave Uni-Amer Industries that particular piece of business, though for the next six months Bertrand was griping about the size of the kickback. I guess he was grateful-he gave me a watch that told time in three zones that he got for Christmas from some Norwegian shipping company.

"Set it for Tokyo and Singapore," he advised, "any hour of the day you could know what those tricky damn foreign skunks is up to."

Before he left town this last time, heíd switched his incoming faxes over to my machine, so all I had to do was glance at themÖthat is, when I remembered, and for a long time it was mind-numbing stuff about the functionality of the AZ-37 desktop radiation mode, or the exact dimensions of the trundle bed carrier, that uncomfortable cot-on-wheels that people laid down on before you swung them under Madame Curieís invention for peeking at bones.

And now somebody had broken down his door. I suppose I should have quietly tiptoed inside my own place and called the gate guards the minute I saw it, but curiosity got the best of me. Thatís the problem with us movie guys. We always want to know the whole story. I walked up to the door and gave a little push. But, instead of opening, it came off its remaining hinge and toppled over with a crash. There was a sudden rustle from the spare bedroom that Bertrand had converted into his office, and before I could retreat, two men came out and surrounded me with their extremely persuasive selves.

Their complexions were black as midnight onyx. They wore shiny business suits that I would have chosen as wardrobe for the successful gangster-businessmen from Hong Kong in Klish Clash, one of the countless Vinnie Berger chop-sockies, that is, the cheapie martial arts films that were among the Berger Royal staples. These black-as-onyx guys had broad shoulders and a collective scowl on their faces.

"Are, perhaps, you Bertrand, himself?" the one on the left said, giving me a little push for emphasis.

"NooooÖ" I said uncertainly, pressing for time to think of something clever or at least get my gears in reverse so I could motor on out of there. I started babbling as I tried to back out the way Iíd come in. "Bertrand, himself, is an octogenarian with a bad temper. Thatís obviously not me. Iím not even 35. And Iím fairly even-tempered. You have to be, in my business. Say, did you guys see who broke in here?"

I thought Iíd leave them an out, they could say theyíd seen a white guy in a funny hat running away, but even that last was the wrong question, at least, coming from me. As it would turn out, there were no right or good questions.

Skin tones on Negroes in America tend to shades from light peach to cherry red and various shades of chocolate brown. Not on these guys; these were blue-black men from the old country, men so dark there was a depth and a luster to their skin that made it shine like polished hardwood. Really, although it was quite beautiful, skin like that will give a lighting director the fits. Even the newest fine grain 35mm canít stand the contrast between an ebony sheen like that and, say, the whites of the eyes and teeth, and no matter what the film schools tell you, video isnít any better.

"No, why do you say that about breaking in?" The first one said. The anger was apparent in his voice.

"This door was hanging open from before we happened here," the other said with a sly half-smile. He looked like the wolf about to jump Little Red Riding Hood.

"Ahh, yes, right. We thought our dear friend, Mr. Bertrand Burke, might be injured," the first added helpfully. "So, of course, we entered this domicile to come to his aid and rescue."

"Bertrand isnít here," I said. "Heís away on business."

I donít like crowds in the first place, and these unpleasant refugees from GQ Africa were pressing in too close for my comfort level. Heavy scent of Old Spice trying unsuccessfully to overcome body odor and all that. Nothing an occasional shower couldnít handle, but that wasnít the point. Far worse for my particular situation, the shared entranceway to our condos was isolated from the general view.

In hindsight, I see I should have been a little more concerned a little sooner, but Sea Garden Cove is a quiet, gate-guarded enclave. We donít encounter real trouble, situated as we are, a half-mile inland from the spangled neon glitz of the Coast Highway. Our gate guards arenít much, but in general their obdurate presence is enough to discourage the garden variety of local evils like Jehovahís Witnesses and grade school kids selling overpriced milk chocolate bars with almonds.

"Can you tell us, perhaps, where Mr. Burke got himself off to?" the guy on the right asked. They both were broad-shouldered and athletic looking, but shorter than I was, and Iím barely six feet in my stocking feet.

"Well," I said doubtfully, "He said something about Budapest."

"Budapest!" They gave each other a startled look and then glared at me. I could see further conversation would be required.

I brought it on with a rush.

"Come to think about it, guys, Iím not sure he actually went to EuropeÖBertrand is an import-export guy. He goes everywhere, but, as he works for himself, he doesnít report to anybody, and when he does say where he might be going heís not very big on the details."

That explanation didnít really seem to satisfy, either.

"So, then, inform us. Where are the actual business offices of Mr. Bertrand Burke?"

What a snappish little dictator! We could have used this fellow in Klish Clash, where weíd been panned for lack of authenticity. There was a big scar authentically indenting the bridge of his nose. I wondered how heíd gotten it. The only explanations I could come up with were unpleasant. Of course, there I was again, type-casting.

"Yes. Yes, precisely where are they?" the other added like an evil echo. "The offices of Mr. Bertrand Berke of Uni-Amer Industries?"

Maybe it was my overactive imagination, but I sensed an arch indifference and the hint of a foreign accent in their voices. I was just meat to these guys-they were treating me like I was playback from the dead. I thought their speech pattern might be French Colonial rather than German or English, but Iím not really an expert in that sort of thing. In the Berger Royal school of low-budget filmmaking we go for broad impressions rather than literal accuracy.

"Here." I replied simply. "Right where youíre standing. This is the broken doorway of Bertrand Berke and these are the offices of Uni-Amer Industries, LLC, Excellence in X-ray Exports."

"Impossible!" The wide black man on the left looked around skeptically, as if Old Bat-brain Bertie might be hiding under the fallen door, or in the nearby hall closet. "I say, I mean to ask you, Where are the actual offices of Uni-Amer Industries?"

Itís always hard when dreams come crashing down to meet reality. I donít know what these guys expected, but Bertrandís little shell of a company certainly wasnít it.

"I thought you just asked that?"

The fellow gave me a glare that would have crushed an ordinary mortal, but, of course, Iím on the low end in show biz and I take a lot of crushing.. But I didnít need my directorial genius to recognize the increasing coldness in his voice and the dark granite set of his chin. He wasnít asking, he was demanding.

"Hey, donít shoot the messenger," I said.. "This is Uni-Amer, and itís not my fault they donít have a pretty secretary, but with cut-rate shipping, this is what you get. Bertrand works out of this condo, right here where he lives."

I suppose I should have been more on my guard; after all, tricky and unexpected things are always happening in our flicks, which are invariably full of heart-thumping action even if they come up lacking in motivation or real meaning-not that Big Time Hollywood does much better with three times my crew, four times as many shoot days and a hundred times my puny budgets. But the point is, I donít expect adventure in my own pathetic little mess of a personal life. Adventure is something Vinnie and his schlock writers and hack directors and I invent and then present to the forgiving masses as entertainment.

Still, in the back of my mind something about my present situation reminded me of the time in Dragonfly Madness when the corrupt Harrigan Matreís henchmen (who were themselves the Demon-spawn of the Dark Chop-man), anyway I was reminded of the time these guys had surrounded brave Tran Le just before they jumped him. Not a good sign, and then, just about when I decided Iíd better be doing something about that-oops, it was too late.

I never had a chance. Iím nearsighted, myopic, you know, and, even with my Calvin designer eyeglasses, I have terrible peripheral vision. So I didnít actually see the cold and heavy object that struck me on the side of the head. And after that, I suppose I slumped to the ground without saying anything significant or even out loud. Suppose, but wouldnít really know.