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Authors: Bill Moody

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Fade to Blue

Fade to Blue

Fade to Blue

An Evan Horne Mystery

Bill Moody

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2011 by Bill Moody

First Edition 2011

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2010942102

ISBN-13 Print: 9781590588949 Hardcover

ISBN-13 Print: 9781590588953 Trade Paperback

ISBN-13 eBook: 9781615952939

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

Poisoned Pen Press

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Scottsdale, AZ 85251

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[email protected]

Dedication

For Emily, who has made all the difference.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to three good friends. Captain Tom Mapes retired, Santa Monica Police for his expertise with law enforcement. Composer and arranger Reg Powell for insight into composing music for film, and Fred Caruso for an informed look behind the scenes in moviemaking. and the politics of Hollywood.

Four Bar Intro

I’m at Ruth Price’s Jazz Bakery in Culver City, California and this time not as a sub for Monty Alexander or anyone else. This is my own gig. Three nights, my old friends Buster Browne on bass and Gene Sherman on drums. The first night has gone all too quickly.

I glance at my watch and turn toward them. One more tune will do it. “Pretty Eyes,” I say. Buster nods and wipes down the fret board on his bass with a cloth as Gene pulls out his brushes.

I look down at the keyboard for a moment then lean in toward the microphone. “We’re going to close out this evening with a beautiful waltz by Horace Silver called ‘Pretty Eyes’.” I see Andie in the front row reach over and squeeze Coop’s arm and smile as I count off the tempo.

Gene’s brushes smooth us in as Buster’s bass line sets up the vamp for the theme. We glide through the changes in the concert hall quiet of this no-drinks-served atmosphere, gradually building in intensity through four choruses. Buster takes over for two more, managing some free-like lines but never losing the feel and pulse of the tempo. We ease back into the theme that had once been used as a jingle for the soft drink Tab. That always makes me smile.

The applause is generous as we finish the set. Ruth Price comes up and takes the mike. “Let’s hear it once again for the Evan Horne Trio. They’ll be back for two more nights.”

The
Los Angeles Times
had done a short piece for our opening, which might partially account for the good crowd. But the article once again mentioned that I was not only a jazz pianist, but also a sometime-detective. I’m used to it now so I just accept it. It’s publicity and that puts more people in the seats, and that makes Ruth Price happy.

The house lights come up as I gather my music and the guys start packing up. Ruth turns to me and hands me a business card. “This guy wants to see you,” she says.

I glance at the card. Grant Robbins Creative Talent, it says. “He’s some kind of Hollywood agent,” Ruth says. “Maybe he’s going to make you a movie star.” She laughs. “I’ll send him back.”

Andie and Coop make their way to the piano. Andie gives me a kiss and Coop pats my shoulder. “Nice, baby,” Andie says. “Very nice.”

“You done good, sport,” Coop says.

“Thanks, Coop. Some agent wants to talk to me, so I’ll meet you guys in the lobby.”

“Don’t be long,” Coop says. “I’m hungry.”

Ruth is waiting in the small backstage dressing room with a tall wiry man in thick, black-rimmed glasses and a suit that could probably pay for our whole three-night gig.

“Evan, Grant Robbins,” Ruth says.

Robbins takes my hand and pumps it with just a little too much enthusiasm. “Wonderful, just wonderful,” he says. “Lot of Bill Evans in you, isn’t there?”

“Thanks. Well, I hope so.” I wonder if he really gets it, or is he just name-dropping. Why is it people in other fields want to impress you with their own limited knowledge? We sit down and Robbins crosses his legs, straightens the crease in his suit pants, and gives me a long appraising look.

“Evan, what I’m about to say I hope you’ll keep in complete confidence, at least for now.”

I look away and sigh. Here we go. “Look, Mr. Robbins. I’m a jazz pianist. I don’t know what else you’ve heard but—”

Robbins puts up his hand and cuts me off. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and hire you as a detective, although you’re right. I’m very aware of your skills in that department. No, I’m here because of your piano playing. He leans forward and unbuttons his double breasted suit.

“I represent Ryan Stiles.” His eyebrows rise when I don’t immediately respond. “The actor?”

That throws me. There’s Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Will Smith, and then there’s Ryan Stiles, although “movie star” might be a better fit than “actor.” As far as I know, at the moment, he’s the hottest thing going. I’m enough of a movie buff to know who he is, and it’s hard to miss his face on the covers of those magazines at supermarket checkout counters. I’ve even seen a couple of his films, the huge box office blockbusters. The ones with car chases, explosions and Stiles saving the world from one disaster or other had made him one of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws. I’ve also seen him in a small independent film on cable television that was, to me, more impressive. He was surprisingly good, playing a down-and-out young lawyer faced with a major ethical choice in a high-profile case.

“I know who he is,” I say, “but I really don’t understand.”

Robbins look relieved. “Good, and I know what you’re thinking. What does a big box office star like Ryan Stiles have to do with you?”

“I hope you’re going to tell me.” I was getting annoyed with Robbins’ dramatics. “I have some friends waiting for me outside, and one is my impatient girlfriend.”

“Yes, FBI Special Agent Andrea Lawrence and Lieutenant Dan Cooper of the Santa Monica Police,” Robbins says, taking in my surprised look. “I’ve done my research.”

I shift in my chair and glance toward the door. “Okay, Mr. Robbins, let’s get to it.”

Robbins nods. “This is about Ryan’s interest in jazz piano.”

He lets that hang in the air for a long moment.

I lean back and smile. “Don’t tell me. You want me to teach Ryan Stiles how to play piano.”

Robbins shrugs and almost rolls his eyes. “No, there aren’t enough years for that, and as far as I know, not enough talent either. What I want is for you to teach Ryan how to
look
like he’s playing piano and be so convincing, even you’d believe it.”

I stare at Robbins for nearly a minute in stunned silence. He waits for my surprise to fade.

“There’s a script, a jazz pianist caught up in a murder case. I’m against it, but despite my misgivings, Ryan wants to do it. Not his usual thing. A small indie, low-budget kind of thing, but he holds the cards. He agreed to another big one but only if the studio agreed to let him do this one, and, well, what Ryan Stiles wants…” He doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

I take a breath. “Look, I understand all that, but why me? There are a hundred pianists here in L.A. who could do this.”

Robbins smiles again. “Yes there are, but none of them is a real detective.”

I like the sound of that even less but Robbins goes on before I can say anything.

“There’s plenty of precedent for this. You must have seen some of the films. Shelly Manne taught Frank Sinatra to look like a drummer for
Man With the Golden Arm.
Sal Mineo played Gene Krupa, and Forest Whittaker never had a saxophone in his hands before he did
Bird
for Clint Eastwood. I think you’d have to admit, thanks to somebody, he was convincing.”

“Yeah he was, but—”

“Look, forget the remark about you being a real detective. Perhaps I spoke out of turn. I know that was all just stuff you got caught up in. Ryan is just fascinated by the concept.” Robbins leans back in his chair. “You’d be well compensated of course. We’re talking about a few weeks’ work, and we can work around your schedule if necessary.”

My schedule, such as it is, would not be the problem. “I don’t know, Mr. Robbins. It’s just not something I think I’d want to do. Stiles and I don’t know each other. We might not even get along.”

“Grant, please call me Grant. Fair enough. I know what you’re thinking. Spoiled young movie star—but Ryan is not like that. Think it over. Can I at least tell Ryan you’ll do that?”

I find myself nodding. “Okay, but I have to tell you, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

“Great,” Robbins says, as if I’d agreed. “I’ll get back to you real soon.” He gets to his feet and shakes my hand again. “Great to meet you.” Then he’s gone.

I sit for a moment, listening for that little voice in my head, but it’s not there. I get up and head for the lobby to find Andie and Coop.

At least Robbins didn’t say “let’s do lunch” or “his people would call my people.”

Chapter One

“Oh my God,” Andie says. “You’re going to teach Ryan Stiles how to play piano?”

“Settle down, girl. I said I’d think about it.”

We’re in a late-night deli on Wilshire waiting for pastrami sandwiches and coffee. Coop is drumming his fingers on the table, scanning the room for our waitress. Andie leans back in the booth and gazes at the ceiling. “Ryan Stiles. I mean he’s just so…”

“Dreamy?” Coop offers sarcastically, and catches my eye. “How much are they going to pay you for this, ah, service?”

“Yes,” Andie says. “Dreamy. All that dirty-blond hair and those piercing blue eyes.”

“We didn’t talk about money, and anyway I didn’t say I’d do it.”

“Oh, you have to,” Andie says, gripping my arm. “I so want to meet Ryan Stiles. Could we visit the set, maybe have dinner with him?”

I laugh. “Listen to Miss Starstruck FBI Agent. Maybe I can get Coop on as the police consultant, too.”

“Hmm. I like that idea,” Coop says as the waitress brings our order. “My years of experience could lend a certain authenticity. They always get it wrong in these cop movies.”

“They usually get the music wrong, too,” I say. “How many times have you watched a scene where a band is playing? The drummer is clearly playing brushes but what you hear is a stick on the cymbal.”

Coop and Andie look at each other. “Who notices something like that?” Andie says. Coop nods in agreement.

I shrug and give up. We wolf down the sandwiches and Andie is impatient for the check.

***

“C’mon, baby, I’m in a mood now.”

The second night at The Bakery goes just as well as the first, but there’s no sign of either Grant Robbins or Ryan Stiles, and frankly, I’m relieved. On Saturday, however, I spot Robbins in a front-row seat, next to a man with long dark hair and even darker sunglasses. I try to ignore Robbins’ presence and not think about how I’m going to tell him I’m going to pass on his proposal.

I’d spent Friday browsing through some movies on the hotel’s VCR while Andie was out visiting old friends from the L.A. Bureau. Robbins was right, I thought, as I watched Martin Milner look pretty convincing as a guitarist in
Sweet Smell of Success
, Steve Allen as Benny Goodman, Jimmy Stewart as Glen Miller, and Richard Gere as a trumpet player in
Cotton Club
. Sal Mineo playing Gene Krupa looked good, but then, he actually played drums, so he had all the moves down, and it was Krupa playing on the score.

I was disappointed in Spike Lee’s
Mo Better Blues
. Denzel Washington looked like he knew his away around a trumpet, but after being beaten up, he turns up at a jazz club a year later and discovers he can’t play. Wouldn’t he have tried at home first? Maybe I’m just too picky.

I had to admit Forrest Whittaker was the most impressive as Charlie Parker in
Bird
. Who tutored him, I wondered? Probably saxophonist Lennie Neihaus, who scored most of Clint Eastwood’s films.

But now, I lose myself in “My Foolish Heart” as we finish our last set at the Jazz Bakery. When I look up from the keyboard, Robbins is gone. I thank the audience once again, sorry to have the gig over. Nothing until a few days at Yoshi’s in San Francisco next month.

I head back to the dressing room and find Grant Robbins and the man I’d seen next to him waiting for me. The long dark hair and the sunglasses are gone. He jumps to his feet and grabs my hand, and I’m shaking hands with Ryan Stiles.

“Oh man, that was so cool,” Stiles says. “You’re even better in person than on record.” He turns to Robbins. “Isn’t he?”

Robbins smiles. “I told you, didn’t I?”

“Man, I can’t wait to get started. Whatta you say, Evan? You going to do this for me?”

I sit down and look at them both. Up close and personal, Stiles is even more impressive. The unruly blond hair, the glimmering blue eyes, the persuasive voice are all part of the package. He’s shorter than I thought, but has a compact athlete’s body. I imagine few people ever refuse to do anything Ryan Stiles wants. He’s like a young Robert Redford, exuding charm—and now he’s turning it all on me.

Robbins considers for a moment, taking in my expression, deciding, I think, how best to handle me. “Well, Evan. Have you given our proposal some thought?

I light a cigarette and sit down. “Yeah, I have,” I feel Stiles’ eyes on me. “Look, I’m very flattered, but I think I’m going to pass on this.” I see Stiles slump down in his chair and clasp his hands as he looks at the floor. “There’s a couple of great players who’ve done movie work I can recommend.”

“Is it me?” he says quietly. “You don’t like me?”

“I don’t even know you,” I tell Stiles. “I just, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like something I want to do.”

“Tell him,” Stiles says to Robbins. I look at Robbins.

He nods and takes a slip of paper out of his suit jacket and hands it to me. “I told you you’d be well compensated.”

I look at the number. “You’ve got to be kidding. Five hundred dollars an hour?”

Robbins smiles. “Less than a good attorney gets these days.”

“I’m sure, but—”

“Tell him the rest,” Stiles says, cutting me off.

“Ryan has optioned this script. We have full control over casting and more importantly, the music.” He pauses again for one more look at Stiles. “We—Ryan, wants you to score the movie, and for fun, you’d have a cameo role. You could stay at Ryan’s beach house in Malibu while you work with him. Scoring the film would be a separate deal of course, with very generous compensation.”

They both watch me as my mind reels. I probably look like I’ve just been told I won the lottery. Always, somewhere in the back of my mind, has been the desire to score a film and here it is, dropped in my lap. “I don’t know what to say.”

Stiles looks at me, his megawatt smile on full charge. “Just say yes, man. Do this for me.”

“I took the liberty of drawing up a preliminary contract,” Robbins says. “I can have it to you first thing tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ve reserved a suite for you at the Beverly Hills Hotel, while you consider further.” Robbins pauses. “If that’s necessary,” he adds.

I lean back and put my hands up. “Whoa, slow down,” I say. “This is all coming too fast.”

“Hey, no pressure,” Stiles says. “We want you to be comfortable is all. Bring your lady of course.”

No pressure? Teaching a major movie star how to look like he’s playing piano for five bills an hour, scoring his film, a Beverly Hills Hotel suite while I decide? “I just need a little time to think, and I’d like to talk this over with Andie, my girlfriend.”

“Absolutely,” Robbins says. “I understand. Take your time.” He gets to his feet. Stiles stands and takes my hand, those piercing blue eyes boring into me with all the sincerity he can muster.

“Do this for me, Evan. Your playing is awesome. If I can just
look
enough like you, I’ll show these Hollywood assholes I can act.” He nudges my shoulder. “Is there a back door out of here?” He dons the dark wig and sunglasses. “Paparazzi.” He shrugs, even manages to look a little sheepish.

Robbins shakes my hand. “Thanks for listening, Evan. I’ll make arrangements for your hotel. You can check in tomorrow and we’ll have a car pick you up.”

For several minutes, I sit there in the spartan Jazz Bakery dressing room, wondering what it’s going to be like to work with Hollywood royalty.

“What’s he like?” Andie wants to know. “Did you talk to him?” She’s kneeling on the bed facing me as I lean back against the headboard in our hotel.

“Of course I talked to him. He’s seems okay. He likes my playing and—”

“He’s okay? How can you be so calm? Do you know how many people would like to meet and talk with Ryan Stiles?”

“I’m guessing a lot.” I have to laugh, seeing how excited Andie is. She just stares at me, shaking her head. “Okay, it’s pretty heady stuff. Not because it’s Ryan Stiles but that they want me to score the movie. I’m not sure what it will be like seeing him on a daily basis for the piano lessons.”

“Evan, listen to me. You deserve this. All the years you’ve spent scuffling for gigs, the setbacks, the disappointments. You have to do this. Just think about us sitting in a darkened theater, the credits rolling and we see: Music by Evan Horne.” She looks toward the wall and waves her hand across it dramatically.

She jumps up and straddles me, her hands around my neck. “You’re going to do this, Evan Horne.”

I lie awake long after Andie falls asleep. Scoring a movie, even a small one, could open a lot of doors. I squeeze my right hand into a fist. Still no pain, but how long is it going to last? Is it time to start thinking about a future without playing the piano? Andie is right. I couldn’t get near somebody like Ryan Stiles, and here he is coming after me.

***

We’re just about finished packing when the phone rings. Andie answers, nods, and mumbles a few times. “Yes, that’s fine. We’re ready.” She hangs up and turns to me. “Our car is here. They’re sending somebody up for the bags.” She looks at me for a moment. “What car? Where are we going?”

I try to hide my smile as I zip up my bag. “Oh, Ryan sent the car. We’re going over to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a couple of days while I think things over.” I duck when she throws a pillow at me.

“Oh my God, I’ve got to go shopping.”

We go down to the lobby and are shown outside to a black Lincoln town car. The driver touches the bill of his cap and opens the door for us, as a bellman stores our bags in the trunk. We get in and settle back for the short ride to Beverly Hills.

Andie squeezes my hand and slides against me. “You know what one of my fantasies is?” she whispers in my ear.

“I can guess, but it’s ten o’clock in the morning.” I glance at the rearview mirror and catch the driver’s eyes and we both smile.

At the Beverly Hills Hotel, two bellmen greet us. One takes our bags. The other escorts us to the front desk where the manager, dressed in an expensive suit, smiles and flourishes a pen for me to sign in.

“Your suite is ready, Mr. Horne. Just sign here please. As a guest of Mr. Stiles, please don’t hesitate to call on me for anything.” He smiles again and we cross the lobby with the bellman just ahead of us. At the elevator, we step aside and several people get out.

Andie nudges me and whispers. “That was Jane Fonda.”

Our room overlooks the pool. It’s large, airy, and furnished like a condo. On a table is a large basket of fruit, a bottle of wine, and a carton of my brand of cigarettes. There’s a card with them. “Enjoy,” it says. “RS.” I show the card to Andie. She wanders around, taking in the rich furnishings, the canopy bed, and the bathroom that’s bigger than some of the apartments I’ve lived in.

“I feel a long bath coming on.” She looks at the array of bath oils and lotions.

When the phone rings, it’s Grant Robbins. “Evan. I trust everything is to your liking?”

“Perfect. This is all very generous.”

“How about lunch,” Robbins says. “One o’clock. Ryan will be joining us so we can talk details a bit more.”

“Fine, I’d like that.”

“Great,” Robbins says. “The patio dining room.”

I hang up and turn to Andie. “Better take that bath. We’re having lunch with Ryan Stiles.”

Just before one, Andie and I arrive at the hotel restaurant. Before we can say a word, the manager appears and escorts us to a plush booth surrounded by palms and flowers. Grant Robbins rises as we approach and holds out his hand to Andie.

“Miss Lawrence, how nice to meet you.” Andie has outdone herself with a quick shopping trip for a mid-thigh dress and heels, and her hair fluffed up like she’d combed it with her fingers. Tasteful yet very sexy, as only Andie can be. She looks anything but an FBI agent.

“My pleasure,” she says, taking Robbins’ hand and sliding into the booth as she looks around.

Robbins catches her. “Don’t worry, Ryan will be joining us shortly. He’s finishing up a few scenes this morning for a new film.”

I slide in next to Andie. Robbins sits on the other side of her. A waiter appears instantly and takes our drink orders. Bloody Marys all around.

“Well,” Robbins says. “I hope everything is all right. Room okay?”

“It’s lovely,” Andie says, sounding almost shy.

“Yes,” I say. “Thank you very much, but none of this was really necessary.”

“Nonsense,” Robbins says. “I admit, we wanted to impress you, give you a taste of what’s in store. I trust you’ve given our little proposal some more thought.”

Before I can answer, Robbins looks up. “Ah, here’s Ryan.” He gets to his feet as Ryan Stiles approaches. He’s in jeans, running shoes, and a light pullover sweater, his eyes hidden behind the dark glasses.

He takes off the glasses and zeros in on Andie. “Wow, the most beautiful FBI agent I’ve ever seen.” He offers his hand and Andie almost knocks over a water glass as she reaches out to shake it.

“Hello,” is all she can manage as she stares.

Stiles sprawls in the booth next to Robbins as a waiter appears with a tall glass of orange juice. I can’t tell if it’s just juice or spiked with vodka.

“So, everything cool? Grant take care of you guys?”

“Yes,” Andie and I say in unison.

“Good.” Stiles turns to Robbins. “You need to speak to that director,” he says. “We had to do three takes for that one dumb scene.”

Robbins nods. “I’ll handle it.” He takes out his cell phone and dials a number. “Excuse me for a minute,” he tells us, waiting for his call to go through.

Ryan smiles and shrugs our way. “Sorry,” he says. “Just some artistic differences.”

Andie and I sip our drinks as Robbins talks softly but firmly to whoever is on the other end. He clicks the phone shut. “All taken care of,” he tells Stiles, who just nods as if he knew it would be.

“So, how ’bout some lunch?”

Robbins does most of the talking as we work our way through some melt-in-your-mouth grilled salmon, risotto, and a caesar salad. It’s more about how much he and Ryan want me to join the Stiles team in what could be cinematic history, the way he describes it.

By the time we order coffee, I have some questions of my own. “What is the story about in this script?”

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