Check out Liz Clifford's website today (link in right column as "TFA's Favorite Reviewer") for sample chapters from new and celebrated authors, including The Famous Author himself, who made me post his opening for BIG MONEY (again) here as part of Liz's celebration.
Actually, he's using me as his link.
Maybe it’s only a ghost.
The lady’s two-story house ranks as ancient, so it’s no surprise the pine floorboards creak. But do I detect a certain rhythm...as in footsteps? Hope I didn’t make too much noise going through her dirty laundry.
I lean back on the blood red living-room sofa and hold my breath to listen. A grandfather clock tick-tocks in the foyer. The oil-burning basement heater pops and rumbles. And yes, there...bare or stocking feet pad quickly toward me down the hall. My heart rate ratchets up to match the hurried footfalls.
I stuff the DVD under my laptop and work hard to put on my three-o’clock-in-the-morning, full-boat Carr grin. Not exactly a simple trick. And definitely not sincere. I mean, how am I supposed to be calm and forthright when this DVD suggests last night’s love interest may not be the innocent beauty I imagined?
In truth, the lady headed this way could be a killer.
Clever of me to wake her up.
I don’t mention her name because...well, gentlemen do not identify their secret lovers, not even by pet handles. And seeing her march out of the murky hall into the living area’s yellowish lamplight strongly suggests the need for a new nickname anyway.
I gasp. Oh, my. And oops. Oh my because she’s wearing nothing but white athletic socks. And oops because she’s using both hands and all ten red-nailed fingers to grasp a pump-action, single-barrel shotgun.
“You found the DVD, didn’t you?” Ms. Shotgun says.
“DVD?” If it wasn’t for rhyming consonants, I’d be pretty much speechless. My gaze is tightly focused on her bare breasts and that shotgun in the same close-up. Visually and emotionally, it’s a lot to absorb.
Her right foot slides back, toes out. Improving her balance.
“I know you found it,” she says. “Wrapped in my black beach dress.”
My lips move without sound. I suppose my throat might be choked with fear, but I’d rather think I’m distracted by the long curve of Ms. Shotgun’s hip, the loose weight of her breasts swinging below the carved gun stock.
Watch me get a boner.
“I just checked the bathroom,” Ms. Shotgun says. “You rifled the hamper, found the black dress. So...you’ve got my DVD.”
I try taking a deep breath. On tough stock and bond clients, this often works as a show of calm sincerity. “I swear I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She racks a shell into the shotgun’s firing chamber.
My pledge of innocence must have lacked conviction.
I lift my iBook and offer her the DVD. My heart ticks to an even quicker time. My ego slips a notch. Time was, the full-boat Carr grin and a reasonable lie got me through bumpy spots with naked women.
My heart’s really thumping now, but I probably don’t have to worry anymore about that possible erection.
“Play it,” she says. “We’ll solve the murder together.”
I slide the silver disk into my Mac and wonder if I’m really going to view what the Branchtown Sun calls the “MISSING HOTEL MURDER VIDEO.” Like smoking, this feels very unhealthy.
The DVD’s first images show a thirty-ish woman primping her hair before a gilded oval mirror. Oh, my. I recognize her all right. The happy smile fooled me.
“Don’t you want to fast-forward?” Ms. Shotgun says. “Get right to the choking and burning?”
On screen, the doomed victim cracks open her hotel-room door. Until tonight, I would have been surprised by what I see next: Ms. Shotgun’s digital image rushes inside, pushing violently into the startled hotel guest and knocking her onto the carpet.
I turn from the laptop. “So it was you.”
Ms. Shotgun raises the pump-action level with my nose.
And I thought my future looked shitty last month.
One Month Earlier...
The big thing about my pal Walter Osgood, Shore Securities’ biggest producer, he’s like a kid when it comes to his feelings. He just can’t hide them. So when I walk into Luis’s Mexican Grill, see Walter at the bar and notice his every other breath is a sigh, that he’s clutching his Gray Goose like a soldier with a ticket to Iraq, I know Walter’s worried about seeing me.
He’s got news I’m not going to like.
Great. A fitting end to a wonderful week. I’ve been taking it hard in the wallet, even harder in the shorts. Ever since Monday morning’s annual appointment with the New York urologist.
The name’s Austin Carr, by the way. Since my Series Seven stockbroker’s license is temporarily suspended, instead of Senior Financial Consultant, the slick business cards in my wallet say I’m a Special Management Adviser to Shore Securities, Inc., Members of the American Assn. of Securities Dealers. In truth, I am really just a salesman--like Walter--and I work for myself. Straight commission.
If we don’t sell, we don’t eat.
I slide in next to Walter at Luis’s horseshoe bar and touch the slick Gucci material covering my buddy’s shoulder. “What the hell’s bothering you?”
Another sigh from Shore Securities’ number one producer of commission dollars. A bit girlish if you ask me. Maybe I’ve been living in Central New Jersey too long, but I find myself fighting an urge to smack him.
A lot of us stockbrokers call ourselves investment counselors, or if we have a license to sell insurance, too, then we’re financial planners. We like to wear two-thousand-dollar suits, carry leather attaché’ cases, and think of ourselves as professionals, like doctors, lawyers. But really we’re more like car salesmen.
“You worried about the business?” I say to Walter. “We’ll be okay without Mr. Vick. Carmela and I can take care of his accounts, keep the numbers coming.”
Walter and I agreed to meet here after work, tune up before Mr. Vick’s Friday night dockside farewell party in Atlantic Highlands. Shore’s boss, Vick Bonacelli, sails with his family tomorrow for Tuscany. Only his daughter Carmela refused to go. She’s staying behind to help me run Shore.
“Carmela’s just like her old man,” I say. “Slick on the phone.”
Walter shakes his head.
I like to ruminate over the shortcomings of my profession with double margaritas and a positive setting: Luis’s Mexican Grill on Broad Street in Branchtown. The decor reminds me of home, the east side of Los Angeles, and Luis, the owner-slash-bartender, is mi amigo.
“Shore’s a dead puppy without Vick,” Walter says. “You know it better than I do.”
My jaw stiffens. “Whoa, Walter. Things aren’t that bad. A couple of lousy months.”
“Shore’s toast,” he says.
I lean forward, make him look directly at me. I need to see those expressive blue eyes. If Walter really believes Shore isn’t going to survive, then I can easily guess the nature of tonight’s bad news.
“You’re leaving?” I say.
Shit. “Today was your last day?”
He nods again, then bumps his shoulder against mine. “You know how this friggin’ business is,” he says. “Two minutes after I’m gone, the back office is passing out my accounts and my best friends are telling my clients I’ve got AIDS and ran off with my twelve-year-old babysitter.”
Luis’s Mexican Grill is Friday-night packed, loud and oblivious. Walter still has his voice set on whisper.
“This way,” he says, “I’ve got a weekend to prepare my clients for your assault.”
Except for math, science, history, and geography, Walter’s no dummy. Guaranteed he’s been tenderizing his good clients about this move for weeks.
“You’re a part owner, Walter. You have a piece of Shore. Why would you throw that away after only a few bad months?”
When he shakes his head this time, not a hair moves. Walter Osgood pays a hundred bucks per styling. “Shore’s lost money every month since we bought in,” he says. “With Vick leaving town, this A.A.S.D. investigation, Sunny and Doppler taking a walk...the red numbers can only get worse, Austin. I’m bailing.”
Sunny was a complainer and Doppler spent his days distressed over potential bad weather. They’ve had a pissy attitude since Mr. Vick sold me, Carmela’s now-estranged husband Tom Ragsdale, and Walter half of Shore’s stock.
“Are you worried about this A.A.S.D. investigation?” I say. “Is that why you’re leaving?”
“No,” Walter says. “I’m leaving because Jaffy Ritter Clark is handing me a check for $450,000 when I show up for work Monday. But if I were you, I’d worry what that A.A.S.D. cutie might dig up on Shore Securities marketing practices. Remember that St. Louis bond default last year? Mr. Vick’s sales contest?”
I turn Walter’s shoulder, make him look at me again. “You’re leaving me, Vick, and Carmela dead in the water, man. Without your numbers, we are in trouble. Can’t you give it another six months?”
Walter’s pale blue eyes turn cold. “What’s going to change?”