Adventures of Hollywood Jim Ch. 90byhollywoodjim©
Author's note; Thanks for your patience everyone!
The garage of my apartment building looked like the inside of a dance club with all the police lights swirling around the walls as they arrived to investigate my call of a possible car theft in process. I was standing there with a pink water pistol as two of the LAPD's finest walked over. Before I could speak, one looked at me with a quizzical look.
"Haven't we met before?" he said to me.
To my shock, they were the same cops who'd arrested me as a suspicious person after I'd been chased out of Jennifer Lawrence's house by her shotgun-toting brothers. And they couldn't help but snicker at meeting me again, this time armed with a pink water pistol. I quickly explained how the owner of the car was with me and I'd mistaken her for a thief. She backed up my story and produced the necessary identification to prove ownership of the car. They admired the car (and probably her), wished us a good night and left. I just knew I'd be the talk of the LAPD for the next decade or so.
The owner of the maroon 1973 Corvette Stingray Convertible was one Laura Austin, just returned from parts unknown.
"Uh, maybe we should talk somewhere. I could use some coffee." She said to me.
"Yeah, I could use some too." I said with a sigh "Maybe something stronger would be more fitting.
Once we were up in my apartment, she looked around and reacquainted herself with the place. She removed her jacket and her enviable body was clad in a dark brown shirt and black jeans. The shirt was low cut, of course, offering a generous view of her breasts. But I didn't know whether I should be angry at her for leaving me with so many questions or relief at knowing she was OK. She slowly sat down at my kitchen table. I joined her with a stern look of apprehension at what might come next.
"Uh, I guess the first thing you'll want to know is where I've been." She said with a nervous chuckle. It was probably the first time I'd ever seen anything resembling nervousness in her. She suddenly stood up and began to slowly pace the floor. She always seemed to be in perfect control of any situation (or person). But this time, she was standing in my kitchen like she was experiencing the legendary actors' nightmare of walking into a scene and not having the slightest idea what to say.
"The thought occurs to me, yes." I said as I poured glasses of Jack Daniels' for us. Why I chose this kind of poison, and why I actually had a bottle in my cupboard, I have no idea. But she eagerly accepted her glass and with a smile said;
"Cin cin!" as our glasses clinked together.
"What does that mean?"
"It means 'all good things for you'. It's an Italian toast, what did you think I'd say?"
"I dunno...maybe 'bottoms up'?"
"Funny. I'd say that if we were in a strip club. This is different."
There was a long silence between us.
"Then, maybe you should tell all...for a change." I said slowly, my suspicions clearly showing.
Laura took another sip of her drink and began to talk. "Well, what happened at Gary's place was more than just strippers and blow. It was the tip of the iceberg. You see, Rita told Elizabeth about Gary and Scott trying to produce their cheapo porn films, so Elizabeth tipped off the LAPD and the FBI. The Feds were already building a case against Scott because he'd tapped into what he figured was an untraceable and unlimited cash source."
"What was that?"
"Artists Unlimited. He was siphoning cash from the company."
"Scott was doing that?"
"And he had help. Remember Senator Geary? He used some banking connections to move the money into some offshore bank accounts he'd set up. Since he'd been on the banking commission in D.C. it gave him access to all the tricks and he helped Scott hide his transactions."
"But didn't Geary resign because of that?"
"Just because he resigned doesn't mean he burned his address book. Rita knew what his plans were and got her info to Elizabeth. Scott was probably planning to tell Gary, he saw Rita and...all hell broke loose."
"The domino theory comes to life." I said with a sigh "What about the group involved in his takeover bid?"
"Elizabeth reminded them of their previous association and they quickly pulled out. They were all previous clients' or had some kind of peripheral connection. And knowing Scott was a client and his reputation, she advised me and Rita and Vicki to lie low and hideout with people we trusted until the dust settled. So the text messages I sent were just my way of telling you I was OK. She sent us an all clear signal this morning, that's how I knew it was OK to come home."
All I could do was sit there with a stunned look on my face. I always knew about the dirty dealings that went on behind the scenes. Hell, I'd seen them first hand when Marty O'Brien was on the scene. And now I was seeing it happen again. Laura knew she'd thrown a lot at me at once.
"Look, I know, I put you in an awkward situation..." She said, trying to sound sympathetic.
"That's putting it mildly! I don't know if I should give you a hug or take you over my knee."
"Oooooh, I didn't know you had a kinky side!" she said with slightly raised eyebrows as she petted Smokie, who purred at her attentions. It almost seemed like a bad comedy gag but for some reason I leaned down to look into Smokie's face.
"Would YOU believe all this?"
Smokie looked at me, then at Laura, and yawned and strolled off. It only made her giggle at the absurdity of it all.
"Elizabeth always takes good care of us, she calls us her pets."
"Pets? That's what she calls you?"
"Would you prefer another term?" she replied angrily, like I'd offended her personally "Contrary to what you might think she's not some low-life driving a mile-long Cadillac down Sunset Boulevard. She takes good care of her friends, trust me. Remember Judy? She's our attorney now. Elizabeth paid her way through law school." There was a momentary silence between us now. I knew she was no dummy and she seemed to think of me as reasonably smart. I'd only met Judy once, down in Mexico but she seemed out of place with someone like Laura and her explanation made a little more sense to me. That didn't answer all my questions, though.
"So where have you been, then?" I asked in a calmer tone.
"Well, I can't be specific, you know that."
"Oh, why am I not surprised?" I said with a roll of my eyes. It was the kind of response I expected from her. She always left me with more questions than answers and I usually had no choice but to leave it at that, as much as it infuriated me. But this was one time when I wanted answers, real answers.
"But I will give you a hint." She said as she took out her cellphone and scrolled through its contents "Remember this photo?" she said as she showed me a photo of her on a nude beach giving a big smile and showing off her "goodies" as it were.
"Yes, you sent it to me long ago."
"See the guy in the back?"
Behind her was the slightly fuzzy image of an older gentleman, also naked.
"OK, I see the guy, what about him?"
"That's her husband."
"You don't know who that is?"
"I'm assuming he's the CEO, right?"
"Wrong, she is. Who do you think took the picture?"
"I don't know who took it!" I was getting annoyed at her now.
"OK, OK, I'll make it even easier. Remember the lady who offered to make you the next Robert Evans?"
Everything suddenly came into focus now. The CEO was in fact, Jackie Morrison. She'd tried to take over Artists Unlimited and when that failed, made me a very tempting offer to leave AU and become an in-house producer at her newly created entertainment conglomerate. It ended up costing me my job at Artists Unlimited when Chuck Tyler found out about it. I was due to meet with her in two days to finalize my new deal with her company.
"That's her husband?" I said in a stunned voice.
"Yeah, too bad you can't see her."
"I guess she was, um..."
"Nude? Hell, yeah she was! She's got a kick-ass body for an old broad, I'll say that."
"And I take it that you and him, uh..." I was stammering now.
"Very good, Sherlock. You're not as dumb as I thought you were. Yes, we all played together." She replied with that sly smile of hers. She always knew how to turn me into a stammering idiot "It was fun too."
"So she knew all along I had the car?"
"Who do you think arranged it with the hotel? I had to leave it with someone I could trust. She just took care of the paperwork and greased a few palms when necessary. That's all."
I was dumbfounded. It was all too weird to be believed. I was so deep in thinking about all this I didn't hear what she said next.
"I'll take my keys now, if you don't mind." She said.
"The keys? You know, those shiny things hanging on the rack behind you."
I reached for the keys that were on a chain with the ZZ Top logo hanging on them, another sure sign of who the owner was. The golden logo glittered in the light as I handed them to her.
"So, tell me...did you ever drive it?" she asked with that same sly smile. Of course I was tempted, but no, I never did. I was too busy trying to process how and why I had such a car in my care to even think about any joyrides.
"No, I never drove it. What if I got pulled over, I doubt I could bluff my way out of a ticket the way you could."
"Hmmm, I guess you've got a moral compass after all." She said as she took one last sip of her drink and looked at her watch "I should get on home."
"Now there's another question...but maybe I'd better not ask it." I was referring to her mysterious address that turned out to be another ruse designed to throw off inquiring minds like mine. If I dared ask I knew she'd never give me a straight answer. It was her patented method of keeping things mysterious. Everything was always on a "need to know" basis with her, and this was something I didn't need to know.
"Until we meet again, Mr. Hollywood" She said with a smile before giving me a quick kiss goodbye.
And with that, she left. I looked out the window at the street below and saw the distinctive shape of her Corvette pull out of the garage and roar off into the L.A. night. Smokie had leapt onto the windowsill and watched her pull away too, he looked at me and meowed.
"Yeah, I know what you mean, pal. She'll be back."
I had bigger things to look forward to.
As arranged, Jackie Morrison and I would meet at Nate 'n Al's in Beverly Hills and finalize our deal. I don't know if it was nerves or eagerness, but I over-compensated for time and arrived much earlier than I expected. To my surprise, Jackie was already there in a booth by the large windows, studying her phone and any paperwork. She casually looked up at me and smiled.
"James! So good to see you again."
"Yes, I see you're already at work."
"The business world has no time table. I learned that from my Dad long ago." She said as she waved her hand to a waitress, who promptly filled our coffee cups and took our breakfast orders.
"I took the liberty of contacting your attorney, Roger Sullivan, and he's up to speed on what we'll be doing. I'll be seeing him later today. I must say he's very particular with details. Have you known him long?"
"Yes, I met him when I first moved out here. He handled my move to Artists Unlimited and any other legal business I've had."
"I think he'll be quite satisfied with my legal team" she said as she signaled to an assistant sitting nearby who withdrew a folder from a briefcase "I believe they're former law school classmates of his."
"How do you know that?"
"I make it a point to know all I can about people I work with" she said with a knowing smile before leaning in close to me "You'd be amazed at what you can find with a simple Google search." She produced several documents and carefully explained the meaning of each one, assuring me that Roger had seen them as well and would be briefed on them before they were notarized. "That appears to be all. Welcome to the Morrison Group, James." She said as we shook hands "I think the only detail left is choosing your office. We can take care of that tomorrow morning. Did you have any questions?"
My first impulse was to say no, but one matter did peak my curiosity.
"Well, yes...um, I had a meeting last night with a friend..."
I was momentarily stunned.
Jackie turned to her assistant and told her to take the paperwork back to the office, saying she'd be along later. Once we were alone, she leaned in closer and continued our conversation.
"She called me after picking up her car. You took very good care of it."
"I didn't have much choice. She apparently knows you rather well."
"You could say that. We've known one another quite a while, so there was no question of my helping her when I was contacted."
"Oh, yes. She's a good friend of mine." She said casually as our coffees were refilled.
"Laura was with you the whole time?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes she was. I have several homes so to the rest of the world she was simply house-sitting for me."
"She said you handled getting her car to me. In her words, you greased a few palms."
Jackie nodded as she took another sip of her coffee "That's where you came in."
"I just felt a little strange. The circumstances and all..."
"Yes, I suppose we could've handled it all better. But you have to understand, this had to be done quickly and there was a dangerous individual we were dealing with."
"Where is he now?"
"I'm not sure, I've gotten some conflicting reports he's still in L.A. but he might be back In New York for all I know."
"But he's no longer a danger?"
"I wouldn't worry about him." She said confidently as she gathered her things together "I have to get back to the office, my staff will contact you later today."
We both stood and shook hands.
"Again, welcome to the Morrison Group, Jim. I'm really looking forward to working with you."
When I arrived home, a package from FedEx was waiting for me with all the pertinent info related to my employment as well as a magnetized card that served as the key to my new office. In reading through the paperwork, I found that the Morrison Group was a multi-billion dollar conglomerate with numerous real estate holdings and newly-acquired interests in films and television as well. Their strategy was to buy up companies and/or talent at dirt-cheap rates and build from there. It was clear this "shopping spree" happened around the time Jackie Morrison had been rebuffed in her efforts to merge with Artists Unlimited. It all came down to simple revenge.
Now I knew why they called her "the Jackal".
And while the Morrison Group's main offices were in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper that was seen every week by 80's TV viewers as the offices of "L.A. Law", they actually had offices throughout the city that included a film studio they'd recently purchased from some South Korean billionaire, a last reminder of the days when Asia looked to take over Hollywood, and that's where I'd be based. The office I opened the double doors to, took my breath away. It was definitely large, to say the least. I had to stand for a few moments in awe at what was now mine. I slowly ran my hand over the high-tech, oak desk provided for me, with the requisite black high-backed leather chair. A new computer was ready for me, its screen showing the Morrison Group's logo written in the same style as the famous "Hollywood" sign. The huge window gave me a good view of the same sign, below it was the usual studio activity of cars and people passing by.
"Feel like a mogul?" I heard behind me. I turned to see Roger Sullivan standing in the doorway, with a gleeful smirk on his face. He wore a grey suit with no tie, so unlike him. I wasn't sure what to say but somehow croaked out an answer.
"I feel like an intruder in the boss' office."
"You'll get over it." He mumbled as he sat down on the nearby couch and put his feet up on the coffee table "So what's the Jackal like?"
"I don't know, I'm not sure I'll see much of her...and get your feet off my table!"
"My, my, aren't we touchy today."
I had to chuckle at my sudden change in attitude. I guess it was understandable given where I'd been just a few days ago.
"Have you heard anything about Scott's whereabouts?"
Roger shook his head "He's hiding somewhere. Don't make yourself paranoid, Jim. You've just had the opportunity of a lifetime handed to you and you're gonna worry about that dirtbag?"
"You forget that dirtbag was out to kill me."
"But he didn't, you got the upper hand on him in more ways than one. You've got some major muscle behind you now. I'd be grateful for that."
I knew he was right.
"What's my next move, then?"
The "next move" was a meeting at Jackie's downtown office with her top west coast people were several projects laid out and she delegated them accordingly. They all took extensive notes and then she got to me.
"I want to welcome Jim here; he's the newest member of our team. He ran the photo department at our cross town rival, Artists Unlimited. Fortunately, he's wised up a little and you'll be seeing a good deal of his work in the future." She said to chuckles from all in the conference room "Jim, you'll be heading down to Florida. A new client of ours is finishing a concert tour and you'll be doing the photos for the last stop. I think this'll get your feet wet in terms of connecting with clients."
"Uh, who's the client?" I asked.
"Meghan Trainor. She signed on with us and she's been a joy so far. She's got some good people working with her and you'll be a fine addition. Alright people, that'll be all...let's get to work."
The meeting broke up and I was handed an envelope with my plane ticket and agency contact, Danny Youngman. That afternoon I was on my way to Miami for the last stop on Meghan's tour, American Airlines Arena. For her show, the Arena would be configured in its 180-degree version so the capacity would be a little over 12,000. I arrived in the afternoon as things were being setup. Danny was there to meet me, even though he didn't seem much older than me he had all the trappings of a Miami smoothie. His pastel colored shirt was slightly opened and Ray-Ban sunglasses dangled from it.
"Welcome aboard, Jim and welcome to Miami."
"Thanks, it never gets old. What's the schedule here?"
"Oh, feel free to walk around and check things out. Don't let a lighting rig fall on you." He said as he handed me a lanyard with the legendary 'Access All Areas' laminated pass on it "Hailee's gonna do her sound check in like an hour."
"Yep, she's been Meghan's opening act on the tour, pretty good one too."
"Nice, this should be a good show."
"You said it, I'll call you later on and we'll get some dinner in the V.I.P. club. There's supposed to be some other big stars in town for this show."
"Oh, yeah? Like who?"
"Well, I hear J-Lo might be in town, you ever met her?"
Hearing her name certainly sparked my interest.
"Uh, maybe once."
Danny left, and I started to walk around the arena, getting an idea of good angles I'd use for the show. Hailee's band was onstage, tuning up, and they soon began a ragged version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash". I used this as an opportunity to change lenses to see which one would give me the right shot. Just as I got the focus right, a pretty girl with long brown hair wearing a vintage Bob Dylan shirt and black jeans walked onstage and did a little dance before stepping up to the mike and suddenly dissolving into laughter.
"I don't know the words!" she laughed, as the song broke down. Someone in the band jokingly said "Well, that's one we won't be doing tonight!" which made everyone else laugh. Off to the side of the stage, leaning against some metal railings was another pretty girl with dark red hair wearing a green satin Boston Celtics jacket and sweatpants and watching her rehearsal. Danny had reappeared and beckoned me over.