Dan Ronn checked into his hotel room ten minutes before his meeting. He quickly connected the laptop to the hotels Wi-Fi and checked his connection at speedtest.com. All systems go. Dan fixed himself a scotch and water from the mini bar, the carbs would help with his workout later and setting the glass out of view of the web camera, called his boss. Martin Dunbar answered immediately. Dan took that as a signal that something was up, either good or bad, Martin wasn’t known for his timeliness.
Martin, his square face looking even squarer on the video, wasted no time with small talk, “Dan we’ve had some issues come up with your project.”
Dan smiled. “Works almost done Martin, just meeting tomorrow morning with PT to get him prepped for the media blitz. What happened, somebody forget to dot an I.”
Martin shook his head, no responding smile. “No Dan, we were contacted by an environmental group called FOE, that stands for Friends of Earth. I did some research on the group and apparently, it has ties to some other environmental groups and possibly to some Eco terrorist types. They want us to stop publication of your book. They say it promotes a pagan sport that is not.” Martin glanced down and Dan realized he was reading, “Conducive to the evolution of the human race or in balance with the will of Gaia.” Martin looked up, “anyway they’re planning boycotts and protests and I’m not sure if that is in our best interest.”
Dan paused to think before responding, this didn’t seem like Martin, he was in the game for the money not for goodwill. Martin knew his projects paid the bills. “Martin, come on. One, the book is done. Two, some controversy surrounding the book will only be free exposure. Tell them to bring it on, every protest will just mean more copies sold.”
Martin frowned, ran his fingers through his dyed hair. His eyes darted off camera and then came back to the web camera. “It’s not that simple Dan, they aren’t just going to protest your book, but all the books we print. We’ve put in a lot of work promoting our ‘green’ publishing. Something like this could jeopardize all that work.” Martin stared into the camera for a second then let it out. “We’re thinking of delaying your book, I’ve never been a fan of the concept, it’s a paradigm shift from our strategic plan. And Dan there has never been a clear roadmap of how this book is going to translate into a movie, and with this added to it, I just don’t think it would be in the best interest of the company to continue with it.”
Dan was speechless, just for a moment. “You have got to be shitting me Martin. This book is about hunting. Do you know how much money the American people spend on hunting? They spend more on hunting than they do on movie tickets each year, and if you add in money spent on duck hunting and fishing it dwarfs what’s spent on movie tickets. No one is marketing books or movies to hunters. We market to the coasts and not to Middle America. Every guy that goes hunting will want a copy of this book. As far as a roadmap to a movie, that’s exactly why the movie producers I’ve already talked to. Get that Martin? Already talked to about this project, love it. It leaves it open for them, they’re not locked into a script. Just like Horner wasn’t locked into a script when he did ‘The Changelings’. It was more open-ended. He had more freedom when creating the movie.”
Martin waved his hand at the camera. “Dan, I’ve heard your proposal for the book before and I seem to remember that ‘The Changelings’ was a box office bust. There are other considerations here too. We want to move forward with our series of coffee table books on wilderness areas that would really help our green image and I don’t see how we can make your book at the same time and not come off looking insincere about our view of the environment.”
“What coffee table books?” Dan interrupted.
Martin glanced off camera again then said, “Stuart’s books with his photography of wilderness areas in the United States.”
Dan interrupted again. “The hyphen guy. His fucking picture books. You want to dump a book from a guy with a track record of bringing in millions of dollars to your company for some granola book. Martin, tell me you’re joking. What kind of movie will that make? The only way you could turn that into a movie is if you had two hot emo chicks wrestling in patchouli oil at each wilderness area.” The view on his laptop jumped and now Dan could see both Martin and Stuart.
Stuart spoke up. “Dan, I know this is upsetting but I already have several hotel chains interested in pre-ordering the books so they can put them in their lobby and some of their suites. Additionally, the book features a plethora of photos of game animals, so I believe the book will resonate with the same market your book will reach. With your superior marketing skills, I am sure this series of books will in the long run provide more revenue and public good will than the current project you’re working on.”
Martin jumped in, “Dan we would put you back on salary retro to when you started this project, and we would just need you to switch over your marketing plan from your book to this series of books.”
Dan’s ears were hearing but he wasn’t listening anymore. They wanted to axe his book for some fucking coffee table book. Give him back his salary. What about all the money he had spent greasing wheels to make sure he had a spot on the late night shows and the morning shows. What about the money he had paid to make sure the book made it to the New York Times bestseller list? Kind of hard getting reimbursed for those deals.
Fucking Stuart Richardson-Mills. He was never around the office. He was gone from the office more than Dan, traveling taking pictures. Now he was trying to tear down Dan’s book to build up his own. There he was on screen with his long hair back in a ponytail wearing his oversized John Lennon glasses. Dan had seen those glasses on Stuart’s desk one time and tried them on. Just as Dan had suspected, they weren’t prescription glasses. The little bastard wore them just to try to make himself look more wise and all knowing. Probably a big hit with all the girls into metrosexuals.
Dan struggled to control his voice. “Ok Martin, there has to be some sort of win win here for both of us. I mean, would I be putting up my own money for this book if I didn’t think it was going to go blockbuster?”
Martin softened. “I know you believe in it Dan and I am not discounting your track record. Maybe we can just delay your book for a year, do the promotion for Stuart’s and then we can take another look.”
Dan did some quick mental calculations in his head, took one more look at Stuart’s smug face behind his useless glasses. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself Martin. I’m in for half of this book, I’ll have the other half to you by noon tomorrow. I’ll do this on my own.” Dan paused, “and Stuart you can just go home and look in the mirror and fuck yourself like you normally do, because I would rather eat shit than promote your crap book.” Dan pushed the end call button and closed the laptop.
He picked up his scotch. Martin would probably be calling back in fifteen minutes saying he was sorry. He took a drink of scotch and realized he’d already drained the glass. He headed towards the mini bar. No sweat, he could do this on his own. He’d have to get another loan, but he could do it. He’d just have to tone down his spending, make that his wife’s spending, until the money started coming in from the book. At least when the money came in it would be all his money, make that his wife’s money. His glass was empty and he could have sworn he just filled it up. He grabbed another little bottle of whiskey, a couple more of these and he’d be ready to call Audrey and tell her she needed to take a break from spending for a while. That, he was sure, was one call that wasn’t going to go well.
Dan looked around the empty hotel room and started unpacking. Dan traveled a lot and knew how he liked his hotel room. He placed his suitcase on the spare bed then went to the bathroom. One towel on the floor in the bathroom, one on the floor of the tub and one hung up within reach of the shower. He set the thermostat at seventy-two degrees, set the alarm clock, closed the curtains, and then prepped the tiny coffee maker for in the morning. He threw all the pillows to the bed he was going to sleep on. He arranged his workout clothes on the bed and checked the diagram of the hotel for the location of the fitness room.
After driving all day he liked to work the kinks out of his muscles. He probably worked out more when he was on the road than when he was at home. Not that he was in great shape, he hit the Stairmaster at home at least three times a week and when on the road he worked out every night he was in a hotel.
He stopped and checked himself in the mirror, maybe five pounds overweight, it was from the scotch, brown hair just starting to recede a little bit but not thinning. Brown eyes that still didn’t need glasses to read up close and a clean shaven face that made him look five years younger. His wife, Audrey teased him that he should grow a goatee to cover up his weak chin. He had tried it once but it had just made him look angry all the time.
Dan was an author, sort of, that’s what he told people at his wife’s cocktail parties. It was easier than trying to explain what he really did. He had told people he worked marketing books for a publishing company. That he tracked social media, internet searches, book sales to understand what topics people were interested in reading about. In addition, he determined what marketing campaign would reach the widest audience for any given book. Most people didn’t understand that, so it was just easier and less time consuming to say he was an author. He sometimes pushed the writing in a certain direction to make it more marketable, but in all honesty, he really wasn’t a writer. He had editors that did the tweaking of the books. His job was to find the next bestselling book, before it was written, turn it into a book and market the book. Once the book was done he needed to be able to turn the book into the next blockbuster movie.
Dan’s mother had been a TV actress in a long running series, which had given Dan numerous Hollywood contacts. Prior to working in publishing, Dan had worked for ten years as a talent coordinator booking people on one of the morning shows. His experience, contacts and marketing skills made him the best in his profession. Well at least Dan thought he was the best.
The formula was simple. Find a subject that was trendy and create a book on it. Promote the book using his contacts in the media. Build enough buzz around the book to get it on the bestseller list.
The parent company of the company he worked for was also the parent company of two of the late night shows and one of the evening news programs. If you could get your book featured on the late night circuit and get some national news coverage, it was certain, if the book was halfway good, to end up on the bestseller list. Once on the bestseller list he started charming his movie contacts and pitching the story. What made Dan so successful at it was his ability to pick the right story, one that would stay relevant for the period of time it took to become a book and then into a movie.
His first pick had been a survival tale ala Romeo and Juliet meets the Donner party. Two college kids had taken a late fall trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the Chinese Wall. They hadn’t told their parents where they were going because neither set of parents approved of their child’s choice in sex partner. They assumed that telling their parents they would be spending a week sleeping together in a little tent in the romantic scenery of the wilderness might cause their parents to revoke some of their college funds. Next, they had told their friends they were going camping in Glacier Park but on the drive there had changed their minds and decided to go see the Wall. They had violated the primary rule of camping. Always make sure someone knows where you are.
An early snowstorm dropped over three feet of snow on them, stranding them in the mountains. After a week, both of them were perilously weak from exposure and out of food. They tried to hike out but another snowstorm blew in forcing them to camp. The boyfriend left to find more wood for their campfire. When he returned to camp he found his girlfriend dead, her wrists slashed, having written a note saying that she loved him more than life and that he was to use her body for nourishment to survive.
The boyfriend did just what she asked, chunking her body up with his Swiss Army knife. He slowly made his way out of the wilderness stopping every so often to roast up some more of his girlfriend when he got hungry. Dan had seen the story in a local paper before it went viral on the internet and immediately contacted the boyfriend and got the rights to his story. The boyfriend appeared on Conan’s show to promote the book and talked about how he cried each time he popped a piece of his girlfriend into his mouth. How he would have rather died than done it, but it was what she had wanted.
After the show, the girlfriend’s parents issued a statement contending that their daughter had not committed suicide but had been murdered by the boyfriend so that he could eat her to stay alive. Dan had used the controversy to keep the story in the news cycle for over a month. Before the month was over Dan had landed a deal to make the book, which still hadn’t been released, into a movie starring up and coming movie hunk Frank Jameson.
There had been two more books picked since then. His total was three bestsellers and three blockbuster movies. Ok, so maybe they hadn’t been blockbuster movies but they were movies that were made for less than the average Hollywood movie and they all had earned more than the average.
His latest project was a little different. Same formula, but instead of taking a salary for his work Dan had a piece of the action. He’d taken a second mortgage out on his house, cashed in his retirement and funded half the project. If the book was a bestseller then he would make his money back, and if it was made into a successful movie he would be set for life. He could retire early or more likely, he could bankroll his own movie venture.
The new book had a different target audience, pun intended. Dan had discovered hunting. Dan had shot guns before but he had never hunted. It was shocking to him when he had learned that hunting was big business, from the rifles, scopes, backpacks, animal calls, to the hunting videos. The amount of money a hunter spent on their hobby was staggering to Dan, but what had rocked him off his feet was how few movies and books were made for this market demographic.
The only halfway positive portrayal of hunters Dan could find in movies was “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Usually in movies hunters were portrayed as stupid and unlawful.
Dan had set out to find a book that would appeal to hunters. If he could make the book into a movie, then wouldn’t every hunter out there forego buying an extra bottle of doe in heat urine to go see a movie about hunting? That’s when he had discovered PT, a popular author of numerous hunting magazine articles. PT had developed almost a cult like following of his hunting stories. Dan’s plan was simple, turn the articles into a book, add some background on PT, and maybe include an unpublished story or two. Then make the book into a movie.
Tomorrow he was meeting with PT to go over the final preparations for the media tour for the book. He also needed to double check some location names PT had in his articles. His research guy had informed Dan that it appeared PT often hunted up Mystery Creek and Ess Crick in his articles. Dan didn’t really care if the names were real. He just needed to know so he could have a response ready for any questions from the press.
Next, prep the old man with the questions he would be getting about the book during the media tour and work on the answers. The old guy would do great, but Dan had a lot riding on the success of this book, so he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
He went downstairs to the gym and climbed on the Stairmaster for twenty minutes. After some curls he felt the alcohol leave his system with a knotted stomach. Maybe the knots were from putting himself on the line financially to an extent that he didn’t know if he could get the money. On the other hand, it could be from having to call Audrey.
Back at the room he snatched two bottles of water from the mini fridge and another bottle of whiskey. He drank one water bottle then put the other with the whiskey on ice and took a shower. He kept the water cool and let it run down his face enjoying how it felt. Ok, he had some money in gold, sort of his unofficial retirement account, which he could cash in. Dan also had an emergency credit card that he could max out. That still meant he would have to come up with another loan somehow. His house already had two mortgages on it. He was fucked. Maybe when Martin called back he could negotiate his past salary towards the book. He had to do something. Worst case scenario he would call his Mom and get her to take out a loan for the money.
He got out of the shower, dried off, dressed and sat down at the laptop. He called Audrey on the home PC. No answer, he tried her phone. After a minute, she finally answered. All he could see was a close up of the side of her face.
“Audrey, honey, I’m on Skype, hold the phone out in front of you.” It took a minute but she finally got it and swung the phone out in front of her. From the view behind her, he could tell she was out golfing. “How’s the links going today, honey?”
Dan reflected that she might have put on a few extra pounds as she got older but she still had that something sexy about her. Smoldering was the word for it, and the only problem with it was Audrey was finally starting to figure out that she was smoldering.
“Are you playing with Janice?”
Audrey grinned into the camera showing off her orthodontic perfect teeth. “No, I’m tired of that bitch always beating me. I’m over at HillDale taking a lesson.” She panned her phone around and Dan could see a young guy in some stupid white beret hat leaning against a golf cart. The camera swung back around to Audrey’s face. “I figure even if after a few lessons I still lose to Janice, I’ll still get the fun of playing with Timmy.”
Dan let the double entendre go. “Audrey, we don’t have a membership at HillDale, how’d you get in?”
Audrey continued to smile into the phone, “Silly we have one now. You get five free golf lessons when you join for a year.”
Dan thought better of it but asked anyway, “Audrey how did you pay for that?”
Audrey’s smile was gone and he could tell from the bounce of the background she was walking away from the golf cart. “I put it on the credit card, what was I supposed to do, we don’t have any money in our account since you stopped working.”
Dan checked himself, he was about to say he had a job, but Audrey already knew that, better to stick to the reason for the call.
“Well honey that’s what I called about, I’m going to need all our extra cash, some things have come up at work and I am going to have to,” Dan searched for a good word. “Invest any extra cash we have, I may even need to take out a loan. And we’re going to have to cut back on extras.”
Audrey smiled again but this time you could have confused it with a grimace, “What the hell kind of investment is this Dan?”
Dan kept his voice even, “I’ve just gotten a great offer from my work, they’re going to let me buy them out on the project, but I need the cash quick.”
“So they’re bailing on the project.” It was a statement not a question.
Now Dan smiled, you couldn’t put anything past Audrey. “No, they’re not bailing. But I need to put up the money to finish it, the flip side is, Audrey, if this project works like the last three, we are going to be set for life. So I just need you to cut back for a while.”
Audrey was back smiling. “Honey, couldn’t we just take out a loan, something to keep me at the level I’ve become accustomed to until you hit it big, then we could pay it back. I hate living like poor folk, it’s pitiful.”
“Well honey, I’ve already taken out a loan and I’ve got to take out another one, so maybe we could do a little of both, a little loan and just a little of what you’re accustomed to.”
Audrey laughed. “Dan sweetie, you are so funny. When are you going to be home, I miss you, I’m wearing that skirt you like so much and I’ve got my hair in a pony?”
Dan knew a subject switch when he heard one, but at least he got the message across. He was just thankful she hadn’t pitched a fit about taking out more loans. He didn’t know if that was because she believed in him or if she just didn’t care, as long as she could spend what she wanted.
“With that description I want to come home right now, but I can’t. I’ve got to make some arrangements with the bank and I’ve got to meet with PT tomorrow afternoon to go over the book draft and make sure there aren’t any…”
Audrey moved the phone away from her face and at first Dan could see her breasts, nipples poking at the fabric of her top. No bra, of course. Since getting her plus two’s Audrey liked to show them off. Now the camera was giving him an up skirt shot. It was clear that Audrey was wearing white cotton panties.
Dan continued, “Any last minute changes, then I’ll be home for a little bit before we kick off the book tour.”
Audrey’s face came back onto the screen. “Sweetie, I am looking forward to seeing you but if you don’t get home soon I just might have to …” Audrey’s voice drifted off and the screen swung around to show the golf instructor. He was still leaning against the golf cart, but now he was grinning. Everybody’s all smiles at HillDale, maybe that could be their slogan, thought Dan.
When the screen showed Audrey’s face again Dan said. “Well, I am sure he would like it, you look hot, but don’t you dare, you’ll still want to be married to me when I’m a millionaire. I’d have to hire some assassin to kill that boy.”
Audrey smiled back, “Dan I hope this works out because I’m tired of you being gone, tired of everything, get home soon, I love you.”
Dan said, “I love you” and the screen went blank. That was weird. Audrey had never ever suggested that she thought about another man before. The nipple shot he could see, because Audrey was happy with her implants but the up skirt thing was something she had never done before. What was that about? And in front of the golf guy. Attentionitis, maybe, but the scary thing about Audrey was she didn’t lie. If she said she was going to do it, she did it.
Pushing that to the back of his mind Dan focused on the money. Max out his secret credit card, call his bank and take out another loan. Talk to Martin and see if he could work some magic there.
He probably shouldn’t have told Martin to fuck off. But when you screw with the man that brought in the money, you get what you deserve. He would take the next hour, make some calls and get the money secured. Tomorrow, drive over to PT’s and meet with him on the book. The meeting with PT shouldn’t take a lot of time and instead of spending the night Dan could pull an all-nighter behind the wheel and get back to Audrey. Damn, she looked good in that skirt. Take her out to dinner somewhere nice on the condition she wear that skirt and lose the panties.
Martin dumping on him was all good. It was a little more risk than was comfortable. The thought of that much debt was scary, but then it takes money to make money. Dan mixed another drink. This could be the beginning of a new life for him. No more working for the man. If this book did as good as his last one, he’d be set. If he managed to get a movie deal, then he would be jet set.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He pulled up to the curb outside the house and checked the address. Not the kind of place he expected PT to be living in, a ranch style house with worn yellow siding on a corner lot. Dan always pictured PT in a log cabin with smoke coming out of a rock chimney. The doorbell didn’t work and he rapped on the door.
He didn’t know what to say when a fifty something blond opened the door and greeted him with, “Yes.” She was wearing just a bathrobe, her dry hair pulled around in front.
“I’m looking for PT Thomas, does he live here?” asked Dan.
“Yes,” she turned away from the door and wandered back into the house. Dan was reminded of the old saying, last time I saw a swing like that it was in a backyard. In her fifties or not, the woman had a great ass. She walked out of sight down the hallway and Dan caught sight of a faded green tattoo on one of her bare ankles.
He stepped inside cautiously, “Is PT home?” Dan turned on charm mode, “He didn’t say his daughter was visiting.” He might even be right since PT was seventy and this woman looked twenty years younger.
He wandered through the living room towards the rattle of dishes coming from the kitchen. One wall was bookshelves from top to bottom. Dan scanned the titles, Time Life books about the Old West, a shelf dedicated to hunting and fishing, another full of Agatha Christi novels. Picture after picture covered the connecting wall. Dan could recognize PT in several, always holding a fish or kneeling beside various dead animals. Dan saw bears, caribou, pigs, deer, and an elephant.
It was a young PT grinning and holding a small rifle in his hands kneeling in front of an elephant with giant tusks. Standing behind PT with one hand on PT’s shoulder was a stout man holding a large revolver in his other hand. Something wasn’t right with the elephant and Dan stepped closer for a better look. The elephant had long coarse hair all over its body and down its legs. The elephant, Dan thought, had obviously been photo shopped. Dan couldn’t remember PT mentioning the photo or the joke behind it. He would have to ask PT, it could make a good anecdote for the late shows.
“I’m not his daughter, I’m his wife.”
Dan turned away from the picture and walked into the kitchen. Most hotel rooms Dan stayed in had a bigger kitchen. It had a stove, refrigerator, a table for two, and some cupboards made out of pine. Definitely only one person cooking in this kitchen at a time Dan thought. A red and white checked tablecloth covered the kitchen table centered in front of the small window. To the right of the window was a framed poem. Dan scanned the poem, it was about sailing the seven seas, and at the bottom was PT’s signature. Learn something new every day, Dan thought, PT had never mentioned that he wrote poetry.
She was sitting at the table pouring him a cup of coffee. She topped her cup off, and sat down.
“Is PT home?” Dan asked sitting down and taking a sip of coffee. Everything felt just a little off. Why hadn’t PT mentioned his wife in their work sessions? Hell, PT hadn’t even mentioned if he had any kids.
Dan noticed that for her age she didn’t have any crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes. Face lift, or younger than he thought. The women took a drink of coffee, picked up a bottle of Caroline’s and poured a dollop into her cup,
“I’m Dan Ronn, two n’s. I’ve been working with PT on his book, he was going to meet me today to go over a few things and make our final arraignments for the publicity tour. Is he going to be home soon?”
She looked at him for a while. “PT told me that you’d be coming today. He said to tell you that he’s off to see the varmint.”
What the hell did that mean, Dan thought. “Will he be back soon or should I come back.”
She chuckled. “PT said you wouldn’t get it, said you were smart though, and could probably figure it out. No, he won’t be back soon. You have to find him.”
What was she talking about, find him. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean,” she took another drink of coffee. “PT is always doing shit like this, and if you want to finish your book and drag him around on the book tour you’re going to have to find him. That old SOB is always running off to do some stupid shit when he should be at home doing his chores. Says living like a normal man makes him go crazy after a while and he needs some adventure, some excitement.”
She’s kidding me, he thought. What kind of game was the old codger playing?
“Where is he,” Dan asked, “here in town?”
She grinned. “I don’t know where PT is. He took off yesterday with a duffel bag, said you would be coming and to tell you about being off to see the varmint. He said he would be out of touch for a while but promised me he would come back.”
“What in the hell, he can’t go anywhere, I’ve got plans for his book tour I can’t cancel, I’ve got producers interested in making a movie out of the book, tell me you’re joking.”
“No joke, and to tell you the truth, I’m a little worried. When PT pulls shit like this he’s usually happy when he leaves on some adventure, but this time he was agitated.” She stared out the window, “All I can tell you young man is that PT is off somewhere having an adventure and if you need him for this book, movie thing, then you’re going to have to play his little game and track him down.”
Dan’s head was swimming, could anything else go wrong. Christ, maybe he was just down at the local bar named The Varmint. This was all he needed, “Do you have any idea where he’s at?”
She poured more Caroline’s into her cup. “Yes but I could be wrong, so I would rather not tell you my guess. I wouldn’t want to lead you in the wrong direction.”
That’s so helpful, Dan thought. “Ok, I’ll keep that in mind, but I need somewhere to start, you’ve gotta give me some hint.”
She smiled again, “ok, but if this screws things up, don’t blame me, I think he headed north, to Alaska.”