Read Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky Online

Authors: Johm Howard Reid

Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky (9 page)

    “Advertise? Are you bloody crazy?” cried Kent. “You want we should advertise our own embarrassment? The free-to-air world just chock-a-block full of spies, all just waiting to take pot shots at us?”

    “Private ads in the big newspapers. Be discreet. Use my name. No-one will question it. I want to get hold of the tapes so I’ll know who I’m up against in the Grand Final.”

    “Good! Good! Very good indeed! For once, Manning, you’ve made a sensible suggestion. I was beginning to doubt my haste in signing you on. Yes, essential we get hold of those mothers! Anything else?”

    “We’ll offer fifty dollars a tape,” I urged.

    “Whoa! Five – not fifty – is plenty. We’re after just one tape of each show, not a hundred and one.”

    “Plus a credit in the acknowledgements,” urged “Ace” Jellis.

    “The acknowledgements?” I asked.

    “Those credits that speed by at the end of the show, Mr. Manning.
The producers also wish to thank
– ”

    “God help us!”

    “Some people will do anything for a credit in the credits.” For once, director “Ace” Jellis was on sure ground.

    “Anything else?” urged chairman, chief executive Art Kent.

    “I want to vet future audiences in advance,” I insisted.

    “Another admirable suggestion: Two strikes in a row! You’re improving, Manning. Spookie?”

    “It’s not possible, sir.”

    “What do you mean
not possible
? Why not? You distribute the fly-blown tickets. Don’t you keep some record of who you give them to?”

    “People do phone and write in. And sometimes call personally. But mainly we give out blocks of tickets to social and sporting clubs and the like.”

    “You hand out tickets to every comer? Anyone who asks for a ticket, gets one?”

    “Yes. Even then, we often run short.”

    “You run short of tickets? Well, at least
that’s
good!”

    “It’s the other way around, Mr. Kent. I often have more tickets than people. I often have to go out into the street and cajole passers by.”

    “You’re begging on street corners and handing out tickets to every comer?”

    “If they seem respectable, yes!”

    “Bloody hell! Doesn’t anyone keep records in this goddamned place?”

    Miss Spookie Williams blushed. I tried to cover her embarrassment. “Could I have at least four security officers on the set?”

    “How many we got now?”

    “As far as I can make out, none!” I answered.

    “One!” spoke up Spookie. “Chuck Johansen.”

    “Who’s Chuck Johansen when he’s in the studio?” Kent wanted to know.

    I made a wild guess: “Don’t tell me! He’s the old guy who checks the tickets at the door.”

    “For god’s sake! Check, check, check! Do I have to check everything in this god-damned place
personally
? Now you know what I’m up against, Manning! Welcome to the team!”

    “I’ll handle it,” I told him. “I know at least three or four ex-coppers who’ll be glad of the extra pay. I intend to secure the whole set. What I say, goes!”

    “Monty?”

    The producer looked unhappy. I could see his bantam mouth working up some shrill objections.

    “I’m prepared to co-operate with Monty so far as the technicians are concerned.”

    “You two get together! Anything else?”

    “Who’s writing the script for the show?” I asked.

    No-one replied.

    “Well, someone must be writing the god-damned thing!” Kent declared with his customary lack of tact. I was sorry I asked – particularly as Kent was not a man to take silence for discretion. “Who in hell’s writing the damn script?” he shouted.

    Finally, Sedge, who was sitting alone right at the back of the room, pointed to himself. “Me.”

    I looked at Sedge in amazement. “You write your own script?”

    He nodded. He seemed anxious not to acknowledge it. Maybe he realized how second-rate it was.

    “How about the questions?” I asked.

    “I do them too,” he answered. I felt he was trying to keep all emotion out of his voice. He didn’t want us to see how nervous he was. He seemed to have taken the whole thing hard. Perhaps he blamed himself. If he hadn’t gone on and the show had been cancelled… But no severe injuries had been inflicted, and despite the damage done – notwithstanding the yelling and screaming and bawling out that Czar Kent had doubtless inflicted on everyone within reach – not a word had penetrated to the media. Doubtless Kenovarnie’s had paid out real money to keep everything cozy.

    Why was Sedge so reticent then? Did he think that he himself was somehow to blame?

    “
All
of the questions?” I insisted. “Egyptian mummies? Planets in the Milky Way? Pesticides for daffodils? The great-uncles of Genghis Khan?”

    “Quizzes have always been my particular hobby. And I’ve a decent library of my own to back me up.”

    “Sometimes Spookie helps Sedge on research,” grinned director, “Ace” Jellis.

    I assumed Kent would take that opportunity for another put-employees-in-their-place remark. He did! But instead of aiming his smear at Spookie or Sedge, he put the skids under Jellis instead. “What Spookie does with her own time is her own business, ‘Ace’, not yours or mine. Now if no-one has anything else of importance to raise, I’ll declare this meeting closed.”

    “Just a personal matter,” I said. “Unofficially, I’m out of the contest. But officially, I’m still in it. How do I get out of it? We can hardly send out a press release. Do I plead sick?”

    “You die!” Tunning suggested. “That’s what you do. You die!”

    Producer Monty Fairmont was at a loss. Even a hurried consultation with his fellow-in-arms, director “Ace” Jellis, failed to produce an answer. Sedge was appealed to. And all this time, Kent was growing mighty impatient. He was already standing by the door, waiting for us to leave his office. Finally, he walked over to me, draped his arm on my shoulder: “Tell you what we do, Merryll: You just follow through, same as normal. And as we agreed when you walked in this door just a mere half-hour or so ago, when you get up there on that final night, you just take care of one goddamned thing: You make bloody sure, you lose!”

    “I don’t want it to look like I’m taking a dive,” I murmured.

    “For God’s sake, Merryll, must I do all the thinking around here? You’re an ex-copper. You’ve been before the bloody courts, God knows how many times. Are you trying to tell me you don’t know how to put on a good act for the judge and jury?”

    “Somebody might guess that I’m putting on an act,” I argued.

    “So what? Who in hell cares?” Kent shouted.

    “That’s dead right!” nodded producer Monty Fairmont. “Nobody but nobody gives a damn about the losers.”

    “Sure thing! Only winners get their photos in the papers!” agreed his lieutenant, director “Ace” Jellis.

    “If Sedge lets me see some of the questions beforehand, I’ll make sure I get them wrong.”

    “No way!” Sedge responded.

    “You’re making things mighty hard for yourself, Manning!”

    “Okay, okay, Mr. Kent. I’ll do it your way!”

    “Good boy!”  

 

 

 

10

 

Most men would find production secretary, Spookie Williams, super-attractive. Not me! Too cool, too detached, too self-consciously demure. I knew the type. Her claws were cunningly sheathed, waiting for a victim to fall into her heart, hypnotized by those seemingly innocent blue eyes, blinded by the Medusa curls of her blonded hair. She knew – or rather, she thought she knew – that every man alive, sooner or later, would succumb to her spell. But not me! I attack. “How do I collect my eight thousand?” I asked straight out, with no preliminary skirmishing or polite compliments.

    “I give you a chit for Tunning.”

    “For Tunning? I thought Keovarnie’s paid out the money.”

    “Well, that’s where you’re dead wrong, Mr. Smarty. And now that we’re alone, Mr. Smarty, let me tell you that while you might pull the wool over the rest of them – and I’ll readily admit they’re a pretty damn stupid bunch to begin with – you didn’t fool me for one bloody second. But I’ll leave you alone, if you leave me alone. Agreed?”

    “I’m at a loss.”

    “A loss to know how your cover was blown? As I said, you didn’t fool me for one bloody second. You know why? You’re too eager. Too bloody eager! A real cop – or even a real ex-cop – doesn’t go around volunteering for this and that. And he keeps all his little stratagems all to himself. For instance, he doesn’t ask permission to bung his pals into the plot. He just hauls ’em along. A fait accompli!”

    I hoped I didn’t look too startled by her weird thinking. At least it was in character with her amazing suppositions. But if we were going to play
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf
, I had a few diversions up my sleeve too.
“You’ll need to tell me exactly what brand of money you yourself are busy laundering here.”

    She hesitated. In fact, she seemed confused. I was forced to make a wild stab. “Besides the friends and relatives in the show, I mean.”

    “Jesus! You almost had me going there, Buster. For one wild second, I thought maybe I’d made a mistake and that you were actually a genuine innocent, come down in the last shower.” She extended her hand. “Friends?”

    I took her hand. “How did you tumble to me?” I asked – mostly to gain time to digest this startling revelation of nepotism in high places.

    “I told you. On the one hand, you’re too bloody eager. And on the other, you’re not secretive enough. Besides, it takes an ex-copper to know a
fake
ex-copper when she sees one.”

    “You’re an ex-policewoman?”

    “You got it!”

    “Kicked off the force for making too many wrong guesses?”

    “You’ve got to be kidding? Type in ‘No promotion’ – never mind how bloody good you are. And because you’ve got no get-me-for-free between your legs, you’re the butt of every joke and joker in the precinct. You’re expected to act like a man, drink like a man, swear like a man, and – worst of all – be as physical as a man. For instance, what cop shops are you acquainted with?”

    “Miami.”

    “How many women on the Miami force?”

    “I worked in the D.A.’s office.”

    “How many women?” she persisted.

    “None that I know of!”

    She threw up her hands. “What am I telling you!”

    “To change the subject, how many friends and relatives are you promoting here?” I asked.

    “That’s
my
business.”

    “One in each show?”

    Silence.

    “Two? Three?”

    “Three’s my limit.”

    “My God! Too many! You’re mad if you think you can get away with three. Even one is a risk. But three? Far too many!”

    “Not enough!” she countered. “Not one winner so far! Not one bloody one!”

    “Despite the fact that you know some of the questions in advance?”

    “Not the ones that matter. Sedge is so secretive. Sometimes I think that he knows my game, but how could he?”

    “You’re right! How could he? Maybe he’s just naturally suspicious of everyone – but especially a beautiful woman who seems to get along ever so well with a big blowhard of a boss who gets his kicks by trampling all over the rest of the staff…”

    “That’s just where you’re wrong. You saw how he hassled me about the tickets.”

    “But getting back to the theme of the day, if Tunning is paying out all the prize money, where does Keovarnie’s fit in?”

    “Search me!”

    “Well, someone must be paying our extravagant salaries?”

    “Extravagant? By industry standards, they’re right at the bottom. Couldn’t get lower!”

    “Ah! That explains why this place has no glamour. I assume the quiz is Keovarnie’s one and only big show of the week.”

    “You’ve forgotten how lazy most people are. Most viewers can’t be bothered switching from channel to channel. If they’re hooked on
Around the World
, they’ll tend to stay on that channel, no matter what. Well, Keovarnie’s aim is to please. We produce enough new programs and have enough back-up of old Hollywood movies and TV shows to keep at least one broadcaster in each big city happy all week.”

    “But getting back to Tunning, who pays out all the prizes, he’s not just sponsoring the program, he owns it?”

    “You got it!”

    “What’s the station’s cut? How does the producer, Monty Fairmont, fit in?”

    “Search me! You’ll have to ask your pal and mine, good old Boss Kent.”

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