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Death of a Blue Movie Star

Jeffery Deaver

  Praise for other riveting novels by Jeffery Deaver


  "Highly original and very entertaining."

  --Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

  "Deaver writes with clarity, compassion, and intelligence, and with a decidedly human and contemporary slant."

  --Publishers Weekly


  "Peerless entertainment ... totally awesome."

  --Kirkus Reviews

  "Provides an excellent feel for the TV news industry. The plot twists are truly surprising. Totally recommended."

  --The Drood Review of Mystery

  "[Rune] is a breath of fresh air."



  "A harrowing and substantial suspense thriller ... Terror steadily accelerates in this page-turner until the final riveting secrets are revealed."

  --Publishers Weekly

  "Chilling ... Jeffery Deaver has written a strong, compelling novel forcing the reader to the edge. A commitment worth making."

  --Mostly Murder

  "A terrific book which can be enjoyed on many different levels."

  --Mystery Lovers Bookshop News

  "Deaver combines academic malfeasance, small-town police department politics, and family melodrama with all the requisite mystery and suspense for a double dose of pleasure."

  --Kirkus Reviews


  "Excellent entertainment, with a resilient, astute paralegal as a likable heroine."

  --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  "An intelligently written thriller ... the characters are well-drawn [and] the plot is fast-paced."


  "Fresh and funky; I loved it."

  --Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

  "A solid achievement ... the ending packs a nice wallop."

  --Mystery News

  "Loaded with characters and action and a very devious plot ... a top-notch legal thriller."

  --Mystery Lovers Bookshop News

  By the author of


















  * Available from Bantam Books

  For Wiz, Chris,

  Charlotte and Isabel

  I call for a theater in which the actors are like victims burning at the stake, a signaling through the flames.



  Rune had walked past the movie theater and was three blocks away when the bomb went off.

  No way was it construction-site dynamite--she knew that from living for several years in urban-renewing Manhattan. The noise was way loud--a huge, painful bang like a falling boiler. The turbulent black smoke and distant screams left no doubt.

  Then sirens, shouts, running crowds. She looked but couldn't see much from where she stood.

  Rune started toward it but then stopped, glanced at a watch--of the three on her wrist, it was the only one that worked. She was already late getting back to the studio--was due a half hour ago. Thinking: Hell, if I'm going to get yelled at anyway why not come back with a good story to take the sting out of it.

  Yes, no?

  Go for it. She walked south to see the carnage.

  The blast itself wasn't all that big. It didn't crater the floor and the only windows it took out were the theater's and the plate glass in the bar one address up. No, it was the fire was the nasty part. Wads of flaming upholstery had apparently arced like those tracer bullets in war movies and had ignited wallpaper and carpeting and patrons' hair and all the recesses of the theater the owner'd probably been meaning to get up to code for ten years but just hadn't. By the time Rune got there the flames had done their job and the Velvet Venus Theater (XXX Only, The Best Projection In Town) was no more.

  Eighth Avenue was in chaos, closed off completely between Forty-second and Forty-sixth Streets. Diminutive Rune, thin and just over five feet, easily worked her way to the front of the spectators. The homeless people and hookers and three-card monte players and kids were having a great time watching the slick choreography of the men and women from the dozen or so fire trucks on the scene. When the roof of the theater went and sparks cascaded over the street the crowd exhaled approval as if they were watching the Macy's fireworks over the East River.

  The NYFD crews were good and after twenty minutes the fires were "knocked down," as she heard one fireman say, and the dramatic stuff was over. The theater, a bar, a deli and peep show had been destroyed.

  Then the crowd's murmuring disappeared and everyone watched in solemn quiet when the medics brought out the bodies. Or what was left of them.

  Rune felt her heart slamming as the thick green bags were wheeled or carried past. Even the Emergency Medical Service guys, who she guessed were pretty used to this sort of thing, looked edgy and green at the gills. Their lips were squeezed tight and their eyes were fixed ahead of them.

  She eased closer to where one of the medics was talking to a fireman. And though the young man tried to sound cool, slinging out the words with a grin, his voice was shaky. "Four dead, but two are mystery stiffs--not even enough left for a dental."

  She swallowed; nausea and an urge to cry were balanced within her for a moment.

  The queasiness returned when she realized something else: Three or four tons of smoldering concrete and plaster now rested on the same sidewalk squares where she'd been strolling just minutes before. Walking and skipping like a schoolgirl, careful to miss the cracks to save her mother's back, glancing at the movie poster and admiring the long blonde hair of the star of Lusty Cousins.

  The very spot! A few minutes earlier and ...

  "What happened?" Rune asked a pock-faced young woman in a tight red T-shirt. Her voice cracked and she had to repeat the question.

  "A bomb, a gas line." The woman shrugged. "Maybe propane. I don't know."

  Rune nodded slowly.

  The cops were hostile and bored. Authoritative voices droned, "Move along, come on, everybody. Move along."

  Rune stayed put.

  "Excuse me, miss." A man's polite voice was speaking to her. Rune turned and saw a cowboy. "Can I get by?" He'd walked out of the burnt-out theater and was heading for a cluster of officers in the middle of the street.

  He was about six two. Wearing blue jeans, a work shirt and a soldier's vest stiff with plates of armor. Boots. He had thinning hair, swept back, and a mustache. His face was reserved and somber. He wore battered canvas gloves. Rune glanced at his badge, pinned to his thick, stained belt, and stepped aside.

  He ducked under the yellow police tape and walked into the street. She edged after him. He stopped at a blue-and-white station wagon stenciled with BOMB SQUAD and leaned on the hood. Rune, slipping into eavesdropping range, heard: "What've we got?" a fat man in a brown suit asked Cowboy.

  "Plastic, looks like. A half ki." He looked up from under salt-and-pepper brows. "I can't figure it. No I.R.A. targets here. The bar was Greek." He nodded. "And the Syndicate only blows things up after hours. Anyway, their M.O. is, if you want to scare folks, they miss protection payments, you use Tovex from a construction site or maybe a concussion grenade. Something that makes a big noise. But military plastic? Sitti
ng right next to the gas line? I don't get it."

  "We got something here." A patrolman came up and handed Cowboy a plastic envelope. Inside was a scorched piece of paper. "We're going fishing for latents so if you could be careful, sir."

  Cowboy nodded and read.

  Rune tried to get a glimpse of it. Saw careful handwriting. And dark stains. She wondered if they were blood.

  Cowboy glanced up. "Are you someone?"

  "My mother thinks so." She tried a fast smile. He didn't respond, studied her critically. Maybe trying to decide if she was a witness. Or the bomber. She decided not to be cute. "I just wondered what it said."

  "You're not supposed to be here."

  "I'm a reporter. I'm just curious what happened."

  Brown Suit offered, "Why don't you be curious someplace else."

  Which ticked her off and she was about to tell him that as a taxpayer--which she wasn't--she paid his salary but just then Brown Suit finished reading the note and tapped Cowboy's arm. "What's this Sword?"

  Forgetting about Rune, Cowboy said, "Never heard of them but they want credit, they can have it till somebody better shows up." Then he noticed something, stepped forward, away from the station wagon. Brown Suit was looking elsewhere and Rune glanced at the message on the burned paper.

  The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, which fell on the earth; and a third of the earth was burnt up....

  --A Warning from the Sword of Jesus

  Cowboy returned a moment later. A young priest was behind him.

  "Here it is, Father." Cowboy handed him the plastic envelope. The man touched his ear above his Roman collar as he read, nodding, his thin lips pressed together. Solemn, as if he were at a funeral. Which, Rune figured, he just about was.

  The priest said, "It's from the 'Revelation to John.' Chapter eight, verse ... seven, or six maybe. I'm not--"

  Cowboy asked, "What's that about, 'Revelation? Like getting inspiration?"

  The priest gave a polite, noncommittal laugh before he realized the cop wasn't joking. "What it's about is the end of the world. The Apocalypse."

  Which is when Brown Suit noticed Rune, looking through the crook of Cowboy's arm. "Hey, you, move along."

  Cowboy turned, but didn't say anything.

  "I've got a right to know what's going on. I walked by there just a minute ago. I could've been killed."

  "Yeah," said Brown Suit. "But you weren't. So count your blessings. Look, I'm getting tired of telling you to get out of here."

  "Good. 'Cause I'm getting tired of hearing it." Rune grinned.

  Cowboy reined in a smile.

  "Now." Brown Suit stepped forward.

  "Okay, okay." Rune walked away.

  But slowly--just to show they weren't going to bully her too much. Her leisurely departure let her overhear something the young priest was saying to Cowboy and Brown Suit.

  "I hate to tell you this but if that note has to do with the bombing it's not such good news."

  "Why not?" Cowboy asked.

  "That verse? It's about the first angel. In the whole passage there are seven angels all together."

  "So?" asked Brown Suit.

  "I guess that means you've got six more to go until God wipes the slate clean."

  In the office of L&R Productions, on Twenty-first Street, Rune took a beer from the fridge. It was an old Kenmore and one of her all-time favorite objects. On the door was a raised pattern like the grille of a 1950 Studebaker and it had a big silver handle that looked like it belonged on a submarine hatch.

  Looking at her reflection in a scabby mirror above the receptionist's desk, she saw her muted black-and-green portrait, lit by the fluorescence of the office: a girl in a red miniskirt, printed with silhouettes of dinosaurs, and two sleeveless T-shirts, one white, one navy. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a ponytail, which made her round face somewhat less round. In addition to the watches, Rune wore three pieces of jewelry--a double-terminated crystal on a chain, a single fake-gold earring in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and a silver bracelet in the shape of two hands clasped together, which had been broken and soldered together. The little makeup she had put on that morning had vanished in the sweat of the August afternoon and the spewing water from an open hydrant on Thirty-first Street she couldn't resist dunking her head under. Rune wasn't much for makeup anyway. She did best, she felt, with the least attention. When she got elaborate with her looks, she turned sophisticated into clowny, svelte into whorish.

  Her theory of fashion: You're short and occasionally you're pretty. Stick to the basics. T-shirts, boots and dinosaurs. Use hair spray only to kill flies and to paste things into scrapbooks.

  She rubbed the cold beer bottle against her cheek and sat down at the desk.

  The L&R office was a good reflection of the cash flow of the company. Gray steel furniture, circa 1967. Peeling linoleum. Stacks of yellowing invoices, storyboards, art directors' annuals and papers that had grown the dense fur of city grit.

  Larry and Bob, her bosses, were Australians, documentary film makers, and--Rune's opinion on most days--maniacs. As producers of commercials for Melbourne and New York ad agencies they had developed something more than their massive artistic egos; they were, in their own words, accurate words, "bloody fucking good." They ate like farm animals, belched, lusted over blondes with big boobs and indulged in gloomy moodiness. In between doing TV commercials they now produced and shot some of the best documentaries that ever ran on PBS or England's Channel 4 or at the Film Forum.

  Rune had wheedled a job here, hoping some of their magic would rub off.

  It was now a year later and not much had.

  Larry, the partner with the longer beard, walked into the office. His uniform of the day: boots, black leather pants and a black, blousy Parachute shirt, every button of which his gut tested.

  "About bleedin' time. Where've you been?"

  She held up the Schneider lens she'd picked up at Optirental in Midtown. He reached for it but she held it from his grasp. "They said you're behind on your account--"

  "Me account?" Larry was deeply stung.

  "--and they wanted a bigger deposit. I had to give them a check. A personal check."

  "Right, I'll add it to your envelope."

  "You'll add it to my pocket."

  "Look, you can't keep being late like this, luv. What if we'd been shooting?" He took the lens. "Time is money, right?"

  "No, money is money," Rune countered. "I'm out some and I want you to pay me back. Come on, Larry. I need it."

  "Get it out of petty cash."

  "There's never been more than six dollars in petty cash since I've been working here. And you know it."

  "Right." He examined the lens, a beautiful piece of German optics and machinery.

  Rune didn't move. Kept staring at him.

  He looked up. Sighed. "How fucking much was it?"

  "Forty dollars."

  "Jesus." He dug into his pocket and gave her two twenties.

  She smiled curtly. "Thank you, boss."

  "Listen, luv, I've got a big pitch meeting going on--"

  "Not another commercial, Larry. Come on. Don't sell out."

  "They pay the rent. And your salary. So ... I need four coffees. One light, one regular, two sweet. And two teas." He looked at her with a gaze of refined kindness, forgiving her the sin of asking for reimbursement. "Another thing--I wouldn't ask if I didn't need it, but me sports coat ... you know, the black one? It's at the cleaners and I've to go--"

  "No laundry. I'm a production assistant."


  "Write it down and read it. Assisting with production. Does not mean assisting with dry cleaning."


  "Produce and laundry. Very different. Night and day."

  He said, "Let you use the Arriflex next time out."

  "No laundry."


  She finished the beer. "Larry, I want to ask you about somethi

  "I just gave you a raise."

  "There was this bombing? In Midtown. A porn theater got blown up."

  "Not a place you frequent, I 'ope."

  "I walked by just before it happened. It looks like this religious group did it. Some right-wing fanatics or something. And what it is, I want to do a film about it."


  "A documentary."

  When she was in her characteristic slouch Rune came to Larry's second button down. Now she stood up and rose almost to his collar. "I came here to learn how to make films. It's been eleven months and all I do is get coffee and pick up equipment and coil cables on the set and drop off film and walk Bob's mangy dog."

  "I thought you liked him."

  "He's a wonderful dog. That's not the point."

  He looked at his Rolex. "They're waiting for me."

  "Let me do it, Larry. I'll give you a producing credit."

  "Bloody generous of you. And what do you know about documentaries?"

  She forced her small mouth into a smile that impersonated admiration. "I've been watching you for almost a year."

  "Balls. All you got is balls. You got no film technique."

  "Two outa three," Rune said.

  "Look, luv, not to make myself into a flamin' genius but I got fifty, sixty resumes sitting in me desk right now. And most of them're dying for the privilege of getting me fuckin' laundry."

  "I'll pay for the film myself."

  "All right. Forget the laundry. I got a roomful of people need caffeine." He put a crumpled five in her hand. "Please get some coffee."

  "Can I use a camera after work?"

  Another glance at the watch. "Fuck. All right. But no camera. The Betacam."

  "Aw, Larry, video?"

  "Video's the wave of the future, luv. You buy your own friggin' tape. And I'm checking the Arris and the Bolexes every night. If one's missing, even for a half hour, you're fired. And you do the work on your own time. That's the best you're getting."

  She smiled sweetly. "Would you like some biscuits with your tea, mate?"

  As she turned to leave Larry called, "Hey, luv, one thing ... This bombing, whatever 'appened, the news'll do the story up right."

  Rune nodded, seeing that intensity she recognized in his eyes when he was on a set shooting or kicking around ideas with Bob or the cinematographer. She paid attention. He continued. "Use the bombing like a 'ook."