Just One Look
To Bernice Rock,
the best mother-in-law in the whole world. Thank you for all the great dinners, the moral support and the many times you’ve watched the boys so I could attend writer conferences or go out on a date with your son. I would have never gotten my porch painted without you!
RED TOOK GREAT PLEASURE from hiding in plain sight.
The assistant producer mingled with the B-movie star’s entourage, an invitation to another studio’s set never difficult to procure if you had connections.
God bless connections. In New York’s underground film industry, you could buy your way to the top faster with the right contacts than you could with a big schlong or double D boobs. And while Red might not have the kind of star power that dingbat John de Milo possessed in the industry, at least Red knew how to make friends and blend in on the bedroom set of a cable after-dark special that wasn’t quite porn but wouldn’t make the cut as an R-rated movie. In a business full of insecurity, appearing nonthreatening to all egomaniac parties concerned was critical to longevity. That fine art of flying under the radar helped when it came to treading the outside borders of what was legal in filmmaking. Plus, the anonymity allowed Red to lurk right underneath Tabitha Everhart’s nose.
“Quiet on the set,” the director called to calm the din of the crowd in a studio that had more of a party atmosphere than any Hollywood production.
Actor John de Milo was the last one to shut his trap, but then he looked like he was tripping on the sidelines of the set—not a good thing for a man who’d been privy to sensitive information once upon a time. Red would have to do something about that.
Tabitha Everhart hadn’t opened her mouth all day, her visit to the set where she’d been hired to act as a body double next week just a chance to observe the filming in action. But just because Tabitha was quiet today didn’t mean she would be forever. Tabitha was one of very few people who had all the necessary pieces to uncover Red’s secrets.
“Action!” The director’s call started the sex scene in motion and the bedroom backdrop became a playground for the three so-called actors intent on using the cable movie for a jump to more legitimate shows.
This was the upscale version of porn? Red’s producer’s eye took a jaundiced view of a piece that wouldn’t make nearly as much as something spicier.
If only Tabitha had consented to making that erotic film long ago. She would have been one of the industry’s stars and she’d never be hungry for work again. Her high-profile divorce wouldn’t have hurt the kind of career she could have had. As it was, Tabitha struggled financially.
A damn shame she had missed such an opportunity. And an even bigger shame that she knew too much. There was an old-school sweetness about Tabitha that everyone admired—even her egomaniac colleagues. In this business, that was saying something.
The actors moaned and sighed over one another as they bent over the bed without really taking off anything substantial yet, their bodies just needed for close ups of skin and lips, closed eyelids and scratching fingernails. But the sexual pantomime continued for an audience of at least twenty-five, with John de Milo acting out an exaggerated version of the male star’s hip-driving thrusts in the shadows of the set well behind the director.
Tabitha ignored the guy, studiously observing the scene in front of her rather than acknowledging the actor’s dry-humping technique. Red suspected she’d flee the set as soon as the director called cut.
Then Red would be back to following her more discreetly. No more hiding in plain sight.
Because no matter that Tabitha didn’t realize she’d walked away with a key piece of information about Red during her divorce, the body double would have to be silenced.
KEEPING A CLOSE REIN on his dog’s leash, Warren Vitalis rounded the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue with the same wary alertness of any cop who’d been on the job for at least a decade. Around every bend lurked the possibility of danger, even for an off-duty detective out taking his mutt for a run.
“Hi, Warren.” Two middle-aged men strolling down Bank Street arm in arm greeted Warren instead of any danger.
“You guys are done early,” Warren shouted back as he sped past the partners who shared ownership of a restaurant and an antique store on the route Warren and Buster ran every night. “Is business slow?”
“Bite your tongue, Detective,” the slighter man—Scott—called back. “We just hired help to close up at night so we can turn in early. We’re not the party boys we used to be.”
Warren flashed a thumbs-up before gaining speed through a construction zone where the street was covered by a temporary wooden tunnel. Notorious places for crime, the passageways provided plenty of nooks for thieves to hide, but Buster didn’t look worried. The Akida-German shepherd mix charged into the darkness with typical speed. Warren might not be on duty tonight and he wasn’t in his own precinct, but he still considered this section of the West Village to be his beat since he lived a couple of blocks over. If he could provide a little extra safety for Scott and DeShaun, the restaurateurs, or for the handful of people who were out for a walk at 11:00 p.m., he felt a little more worthy of his badge.
Either that, or maybe riding a desk at the precinct for half his shift hours lately simply made him itchy to be back on the streets. His ballistics expertise had made for a fast career rise after a rough start, but it had also tied him to cold case files more often than he cared to remember. As rewarding as it might be to catch a perp roaming free ten years after the guy committed his crime, Warren missed the adrenaline rush that came with working cases in progress.
Slowing down at a shuffling noise between the scaffolding posts inside the construction tunnel, he spotted a homeless guy catching a few z’s on a length of cardboard. Buster circled back to stand by Warren’s legs, vigilant even when the threat level was low.
“Hey, Larry.” In his twelve years on the force, Warren had learned you couldn’t save every homeless guy on the street. That didn’t stop him from at least recognizing them, since one of the biggest threats to a vagrant’s already tenuous grip on their pride was fading from the public consciousness all together. If society refused to see these people, sooner or later they vanished.
There was a time in Warren’s life where he’d identified more than Larry would ever know.
Warren started to lean down to make sure the guy was still breathing at the same time Buster’s ears straightened. A low growl started in the dog’s throat, but the warning wasn’t directed toward the drunk