Category Archives: Moguls

American Beast
Part Two

by John D. Ferguson

Slowly and painfully, the one-time movie star comes back from near death. 2,232 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Everything hurt.

He tried but he couldn’t move; restraints held his arms and legs down. There was something A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBover his face, something heavy and damp, and there were tubes in his nose feeding cool air into his nostrils to control the rate of his breathing. Pain vibrated throughout his body but it was a dull ache, not a sharp piercing, that ran from his neck to his toes. Something was masking the real feeling. Just when he felt he could open his eyes, he would pass out again.

There were times the famous movie star Tommy Shaw heard voices hovering above but he remained in a constant state between dreams and consciousness so that the voices hardly seemed real. Were they talking to him or amongst themselves? One time he could clearly hear the conversation:

Take it easy on the morphine, Mr. Clovis… We do want him to wake up some day. Can he handle the pain, Doctor? He moans so in his sleep… Gradually, okay?… We need to lower the dosage over the next few days… We must concentrate on getting Mr. Shaw back to full consciousness and then we can regulate the pain… You can see him trying free himself… Mr. Shaw, please try not to struggle… Your wounds will bleed… Please, sir, listen to the doctor.

Then Tommy would obey the voices and stop fighting against the restraints and fall back to unconsciousness.

Tommy Shaw’s recovery from his near coma, to his weeks-long stay in bed, to his standing and trying to walk, took over a month of painful rehabilitation. He couldn’t attend Helen Porter’s funeral; her family came and took her body back to Springfield, Illinois, and they made it clear that no one from Hollywood was welcome to be there. Fans left flowers and postcards with their condolences and hopes for a speedy recovery outside the gates of the mansion. Universal Pictures sent over food from the town’s best restaurants and Carl Laemmle sent over a signed blank check for whatever Tommy needed. No visitors were allowed in the house. It fell solely to Clovis to prepare his master for life as his new self.

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American Beast
Part One

by John D. Ferguson

A 1920s Hollywood film star undergoes a shocking change in life and lifestyle. 1,843 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The children on Sunset Boulevard would play catch or kick-the-can or hide-and-go-seek in front of the dilapidated A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBmansion and shout, “The Beast is in the house!” whenever they looked up to the top window and saw the curtain move. They did this on purpose and would scream with delight and also a touch of fear. Because they knew that they’d attracted the attention of the Beast and that he was watching them.

The children had heard all the stories from their parents. That the house belonged to the once great silent picture star, Tommy Shaw, and had been beautiful in its day. “Such a shame! What a waste of real estate to have this house, now in shambles, in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country.”

The front yard was overgrown with wild bushes and fallen limbs. So different from ten years before it happened. Back then, the mansion stood majestically behind the carefully trimmed shrubs and bushes, the trees in constant bloom. And the walkway, all gray slate, led to the white marble staircase with the black iron railing that ended at the large front door made of oak with a brass doorknob and knocker. The mansion back then stood three floors high and had three gabled roofs; it was said to have twenty-five rooms, including twelve bedrooms and a ballroom where Shaw would entertain all of Hollywood on a Saturday night. Also on the estate were even more magnificent gardens with a tennis court, riding stables and a swimming pool. They said it was a house that Jay Gatsby himself would have built if he’d had the money!

Tommy Shaw built this mansion in 1925 when he was one of motion pictures’ highest paid stars and his name was mentioned in the same breath as Chaplin, Chaney and Fairbanks. Some said he was making ten thousand a week, some said it was more. He planned on marrying Helen Porter, a young star in her own right, and bringing her here and raising a family. Of course, that was before early 1929 when Shaw’s life and dreams were swept away within minutes.

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The Story Department
Part Two

by Steven Axelrod

The executive story editor pitches the script to the studio boss – with consequences. 3,103 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


So here Mike was, past thirty and working in a studio story department, parking at the other end of the lot. The A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBreal question was, how did you progress from here? When the people above made enough flops or embarrassed the studio enough they were fired gently and given their own production deals. Few movies ever came out of those kiss-off vanity office suites (more time was spent on cool logos and interior decoration), but it might be possible to wring some authentic opportunity from such a sinecure. Of course, first you’d have to get promoted within the studio system to fail comprehensively. Well, Mike was good at that. He had credentials: he.was a one-man Bermuda Triangle. Let the ordinary losers try and compete with that!

Getting promoted was another issue. Mike knew the way to do it was to socialize with people he didn’t like. It was a daunting prospect, not least of all because there was no clear way to define your progress. In law school you measured your steps toward the bar exam class by class, and year by year. The path was worn down by many feet. There was nothing comparable in this world. Mike had no idea how many nights of poker he’d have to sit through, how many cigarettes he’d have to smoke, how many parties he’d have to endure, before he was eligible to get the job he wanted to lose.

In fact, he didn’t even know how to begin. He and Emma hardly went out at all. He remembered high school and desperately trying to figure out how to get into the cool group when nothing else had seemed to matter. He’d crashed parties, staged elaborate ones of his own. He even went out for the football team. But nothing worked. A geek was a geek; the social structure was absolute. It had been a grotesque ordeal and he had no desire to initiate some new version of it now.

He put the problem aside until a few hours later, when his old friend Roscoe Henderson called with the first hint of a solution.

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The Story Department
Part One

by Steven Axelrod

An executive story editor tries to convince his studio to make a special screenplay. 2,489 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Mike’s job existed because no one in Hollywood wanted to read a screenplay. It made sense: they were A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBtedious. Even the best ones were a chore to plow through and the worst were excruciating. Mike had wondered about this often since he had started running the story department. Part of it was that scripts weren’t designed for reading. A screenplay was a blueprint for building a movie; popcorn was inappropriate. They weren’t supposed to be fun. But they dismantled narrative in a mercilessly clever way, leaving the pieces – chunks of single-spaced description, columns of dialog, indented transitions – scattered on the page like the ruins of a children’s toy.

The most common solution was to skip the blocks of description and just read the dialogue. But more and more scripts were all action and the only spoken lines in six or seven pages were “Look out!” or “What the – ?” So you really had to at least skim the car chases and the knife fights.

For months every bad script Mike had seen involved someone named Bubba. He had never met anyone named Bubba, which was probably a good thing. But they were everywhere in the world of bad scripts. Whatever Bubba’s occupation, he always wound up declaiming it to the drippy girlfriend who objected to his heroics. “I’m a fireman, damn it,” He would say. Or, “I’m a cop, damn it.” And the girlfriend would invariably say “If you go out that door, I won’t be here when you get back.”

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Hollywood Roadkill

by Richard Natale

A humongous Hollywood merger has unforeseen consequences for all involved. 2,559 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Margaret Sewell sighed as she sat across from her friend, Lou Delray, at the Fox studio commissary’s outdoor 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3patio. She had little appetite and barely touched her salad. “My boss said, ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ And he didn’t even bother to try and sound sincere. Then he gave me a holiday gift card to Neiman-Marcus. As if that was supposed to make me feel better. ‘Hey, clown,’ I wanted to say, ‘how about a gift card to Ralphs, so’s I can buy some food after I start collecting unemployment in 2018.’”

Lou was only half-listening. He hadn’t filed for unemployment since losing his first job right after college. For the past twenty years he’d been a teamster driver on a succession of studio TV and film projects. The studio facilities would remain and his boss, Henry, claimed Lou had “nothing to worry about.” But when your boss tells you not to worry, that’s precisely the time to start making other plans.

With the departure of the television and movie production units, sooner or later, probably sooner, something was bound to give. And that usually meant the older and more expensive workers.

“They’re saying that, after the merger, ten thousand jobs are going to be lost in all. Screw Murdoch and screw Iger twice,” Margaret said as she threw her salad into the trash. A number of heads turned and nodded, some eyes rolled, and a couple of mouths uttered sarcastic laughs.

Buoyed by the reaction, Margaret added, “I might as well tattoo ‘Roadkill’ on my forehead. Am I right?”

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Kinky

by Alan Swyer

A young executive learns too much information from this studio mogul. 2,243 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


“I need you!” Walter Shepherd bellowed into the phone, causing Barry Nash to cringe.

First as an agent, then as a A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBproducer, and finally as a studio head, Walter Shepherd was a Hollywood legend whose behavior was considered off-the-wall, and whose thinking was deemed out-of-the-box, long before those terms became fashionable. It was Shepherd who showed the movie biz that hits should be separated into two totally distinct categories – those that boys, girls, or sometimes both, saw three, ten, or even twenty times; and those that attracted people who didn’t, as a rule, go to the movies. It was Shepherd who predicted first the rise, then the rapid fall, of the new 3-D technology.

For Nash, who was far from earning V.P. stripes of his own, the chance to work with such an icon as Shepherd seemed like a dream. After hitting a wall as an aspiring screenwriter, then toiling in obscurity as a freelance script reader, the opportunity to learn from a honcho was not just what his friends termed a new lease on life. It also gave Nash the wherewithal to marry his college girlfriend, with whom he quickly produced an adorable daughterplus a chance to see the way Hollywood really worked.

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Day And Date

by Steven Mallas

A studio’s marketing maven is on a quest to destroy the distribution windows. 2,880 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


“It’ll never fly.”

“You’re not listening to me,” Kathleen Berg pleaded with him. A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EB“We’ve got to be the first media conglomerate to do this. We’ll not only make history, but we’ll set a trend.”

That sounded incongruous; it didn’t matter if they set a trend or not, only that it was successful.

“Day and date will never ever work. Give it up. I’m getting tired of having this conversation with you, day in and day out! Out!”

Mentally crestfallen, Kathleen rose from the chair and left the executive’s office. The idiots would never learn. She’d have to convince them. Somehow.

As she walked away, the executive – another in a long line she’d spoken to about the subject — admired the shape of the lower half of her body in the snug power skirt.

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Burning Desire
Part Two

by Daniel M. Kimmel

The director makes the hottest film of his life – at the expense of everyone else’s. 2,157 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


If the goal was to keep film director Frank O’Leary intrigued, then Abigor Productions & Effects had already succeeded. Apparently, Seth Abigor was rolling the dice to impress him. Not that he would let Abigor know that. As a company with no track record, the helmer figured he should be able to get its services for a song. Fair is fair. The effects house would cash in after Firebug was released and everyone was blown away by its work. O’Leary simply had no reason to pay top dollar for it.

Abigor removed a gold cigarette case from his jacket and offered O’Leary one of its contents. The helmer passed but examined the case. He’d only seen such things in old movies. Placing a non-filtered cigarette between his lips, Abigor snapped the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together and lit it with his fingertip.

O’Leary responded with a nervous laugh. “You’re quite the magician.”

“Nothing magical about it, Frank. Haven’t you guessed who I am?”

The director glanced at the door to make sure he had a direct exit in case the situation got any stranger. “Why no, Seth, who do you think you are?”

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The Bot That Shook Hollywood
Part Three

by Robert W. Welkos

The embezzlement plot thickens. Is the humanoid studio chief responsible? 2,357 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


A burst of applause erupt from the guests gather tightly around the stage as the sequined and feathery-topped Afro Brazilian Samba dancers sway and jiggle and prance and twerk — isn’t that the expression? — their bronzed asses atop several stationary floats inside the cavernous Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport. My arm candy, the actress Romy, grinds her hips, drink in hand, as the paparazzi go wild. She ass-bumps me as I lift up my arms and clap to the beat. “Get loose!” she orders me above the din.

Who does she think I am? A studio boss doesn’t get loose. But I can fake the appearance of having fun on such occasions. I mean, I am programmed to enjoy parties like these staged by the studio. And this is such a lavish after-party for the world premiere of our new film Endless Juggernaut.

“Romy! Over here! Romy!” the photogs scream as the humanoid lifts up her skirt and gives them a glimpse of bronzed leg. She’s drunk on camera flashes. What am I to do but go with the flow? After all, publicity is a game and, as studio chief, I must play my part. As I say, I take no delight in such extravagant affairs, but I see the need for them. They are part of the studio marketing effort for a film I inherited from my human predecessor Les Freeman as he was being kicked to the curb. No matter how you look at it, Endless Juggernaut — the title I suggested for the North America release, mind you — is now my responsibility although I never would have greenlit the film had I been in charge at the time.

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The Bot That Shook Hollywood
Part Two

by Robert W. Welkos

The robot studio chief is interrogated about embezzlement. 2,011 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I have a home. It is a penthouse on the Wilshire Corridor. My apartment features floor to ceiling windows with a view of the coastline and concrete ribbons of freeway. Many of my guests say the view is breathtaking. Beverly Hills is up the street. The studio pays for the digs: sophisticated Jamie Drake décor. Poggenpohl kitchen. Boston ferns situated about.

I am meeting Tanner Gilroy in a few minutes. Jonathan will accompany him.

This should be interesting.

The doorbell rings and the maid answers. “And who shall I say is calling?” I can hear her ask.

“He’s expecting us,” Jonathan replies.

I am a state-of-the-art humanoid and the first of my kind studio chief of Titan Pictures. My executives wait for me in the living room and then I make my entrance. Shake hands.

“Richard, this is Tanner, our head of security,” Jonathan says grimly.

I nod politely. “Gentlemen, shall we have a seat?”

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The Bot That Shook Hollywood
Part One

by Robert W. Welkos

He finds dealing with humans more difficult than running a film studio. 2,340 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I am capable of detecting objects — human and inanimate — within a radius of 360 degrees up to 64 yards. I can see front and back and from each ear. Do not mess with me because I have the ability to silently alert Security and then your ass will be grass. I never tire — but I do take occasional breaks. For charging purposes only. I am programmed to make decisions. Marietta and Todd are my programmers. They seem up to the task. Both are young and brilliant technicians.

I am long term. Pleasant but no pushover. Accurate to a fault.

Never get flustered — even when directors scream in my face. Never fall for flattery heaped upon me by actors and producers.

I don’t do lunch.

Some think it strange that I have never been inside The Grill. Nor have I table-hopped at the Golden Globes. I did, however, appear on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards posing with our Best Actress nominee. Place went wild.

Cameras flashes do not bother me. Shouted questions, however, do.

My name is Richard Bot.

I am studio chief here at Titan Pictures.

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The Rushes
Part Two

by Richard Natale

In this book excerpt, an aspiring filmmaker tries to climb the Hollywood ladder in spite of his evil boss. 2,269 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Zach celebrated Carson’s birthday by treating him to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills where Wolfgang Puck prepared a special meal for them. And for Christmas, Carson received a Prada cashmere sweater. He wore it to the office once, so Zach would see it, then returned the sweater and put the balance toward a designer suit on sale at Macy’s. “Cashmere in Los Angeles?” Carson had remarked. “Not exactly practical. A Hugo Boss suit on the other hand…”

Those instances of solicitousness, however, paled by comparison to the number of times Zach had called Carson “a second-class cretin because you’re not even good enough to be first class” and threatened to “fire your sorry ass if you so much as breathe funny for the rest of the day.”

The stress, which sometimes breached Carson’s high tolerance level, had led him to consider stealing a tranq or two from the pharmacy in Zach’s bottom desk drawer. His boss would never know since, like many of the other office execs, he popped pills by the hour.

“Seriously, dude?” Jamie had chided when Carson mentioned it. “Is that the road you want to head down: sucking pills like they were Altoids?”

“No, no, you’re right,” Carson conceded. “But some days, it’s very tempting.”

The opportunity to work for one of the top producers in the industry right out of college was not a matter of happenstance. Carson had been hired on the recommendation of Prof. David Mendoza, who had mentored Carson and Jamie at Cal U School of Film and was one of Zach Corrigan’s closest confidantes. The two had met when Mendoza was working on his doctorate in film and interviewed Corrigan for his thesis, which evolved into a published bio about the maverick producer. Zach often showed Mendoza rough cuts of his films and asked for suggestions on how to improve them. Mendoza had keen cinematic instincts and, over the years, Corrigan had repeatedly tried to hire him.

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The Rushes
Part One

by Richard Natale

An assistant takes friendly advice on how to deal with a monstrous film boss in this book excerpt. 1,706 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


With a personality as unruly as his person, Carson Thorne’s boss, Zach Corrigan (aka “the beast”), was a large rumpled man who some speculated might be suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Carson had a better answer: “Zach is a performance artist specializing in mood swings.”

Zach admitted to thirty-eight. He was actually forty-six. Carson knew this because, as his first assistant, he’d helped Zach renew his passport and driver’s license. Zach’s self-image was that of a rakish hipster, dashing and edgy. Everyone else viewed him as a borderline slob. Zach had a heavy beard but shaved only twice a week, probably on the same days he bathed, and with all his accumulated wealth, he had yet to invest in a comb or a steam iron. His Saville Row custom-tailored suits were perpetually rumpled, his club tie always cocked to one side, his shirt tucked half-in/half-out. All his socks had holes in the big toe and the last time his shoes had been shined was by the manufacturer. His attentive patient wife, Mila, had long ago given up on trying to bring order to his sartorial chaos. She chose to pick her battles and fight only those she had a chance of winning.

Though rabidly driven and tireless, Zach was also a devoted family man. Unlike most Hollywood producers, he wouldn’t even think of cheating on his wife despite the constant stream of come-ons from sacrificial lamb ingénues. Moreover, he never missed one of his children’s soccer matches, graduations or dance recitals even if it meant being late to a business meeting or an important political fundraiser he was chairing.

Zach’s preferred means of communication consisted of an infinite variety of snorts and harrumphs, and he freely emitted unsightly noises from all his bodily orifices. He didn’t seem to care if other people were present, even celebrities, most of whom claimed they found the impromptu explosions charming. That’s how badly they wanted to be in business with Zach Corrigan, whose films had won seventeen Oscars to date and been nominated for forty-two.

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Not Me

by Linda Temkin

She wasn’t the predator. She was just the assistant warning starlets about him. 1,998 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I got the assignment not long after I graduated from Queens Community College. I was the only one that the school’s job center was referring: they needed somebody smart and discreet. I asked if it was the C.I.A. and the placement counselor laughed; they’d never gotten a call from the C.I.A. If I was so lucky to secure the job, I would be the personal assistant to the big man himself, a Soho movie mogul. It would mean taking two subway lines from Queens but the counselor assured me that the commute would be worth it. Who knew where I could go from there?

With my straight A average, I’d been hoping to continue on at a good four-year college. Stonybrook offered me a full scholarship but it was out of the question. We simply couldn’t afford it. My part- time bookkeeping job was just not cutting it. By then, mom’s arthritis was so bad, she could barely walk and Dad was already M.I.A. We called it that, a joke between my sister Amy and me. Dad’s days in Vietnam were over before we were born, and before he even met my mother. But the way he continuously referenced that time made it a daily presence in our lives.

He had lost too many buddies over there and, according to our mother, that was the reason he turned into a drunk. I guess it’s as good a reason as any. He used to make decent money as a mechanic but blamed technology for rendering him obsolete. But it was the alcohol that did him in. Last we heard, he was living in Costa Rica with some widow he met at the recycling center. Give him that, at least he recycled his liquor bottles.

That left me to keep the family afloat. Amy, already with two kids of her own, had moved to Texas of all places when her husband got a job transfer. So the timing was perfect when the Placement Center called. My interview with the office manager followed two days later. I had arrived early and waited over an hour in her office. The walls were lined with movie posters of the company’s artistic and commercial hits. I hadn’t seen any of them, movies were expensive and at home, mom preferred to watch the nature shows, though her body was incapable of moving, she liked to travel to exotic places in her mind.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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