Matthew Licht

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A Hard Case (Part 6)

The scene was macabre. A beautiful woman held prisoner by the book in her lap.

“This some new kind of torture?”

The guy who’d led me into Project X HQ hadn’t taken my gun. No security goons had appeared. No cameras whirred, no hot lights shone, no microphones listened in, or at least it didn’t feel that way.

“Are you kidding? She barged in here and offered us a cool grand if we’d take her on,” he said. “We don’t usually go for mercenaries, but we gave her a chance. We want performers with souls. The other outfits extrude more than enough feed for the masses. We go deeper.”

Doris Frawley looked up, annoyed. “This was supposed to be a break. If you’re going to talk, I’ll go read in the commissary.”

“Sorry, toots.” The man herded me through a door off to the side, into a small soundproofed room. “Take a seat,” he said. The director’s chair in the corner had a stack of books beside it. “Get ready for your scene.”

“What’m I supposed to do?”

“You’re the detective. Take all the time you need.” He closed the door, quietly.

At the top of the book-pile was Daniel Fuchs’ The Golden West, a love song to Los Angeles. Happiness radiated from solid blocks of print that looked like home.

A woman with bright red hair stuck her head in the door, winked, and left me alone. That might’ve been some sort of movie-set signal. I ignored it, picked up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby Stories. Time passed seamlessly.

The light in the room dimmed a shade or two. Fresh air came in from an invisible window somewhere.

The crew had lost patience. The producer, or director, whatever he was, came back in. He tossed Jim Thompson’s Savage Night somewhat painfully. “Here. Give this the once-over, and then let’s go.”

Not a long story, but a hard one.

The light went all the way out.

Music oozed from under the wooden door, heavy on the vibraphones and drums. Doris Frawley knocked, entered, shimmied to where I was. She took my hand. We went out of the reading room into the light.

‘This is a dream,’ I thought, and then, ‘This isn’t a dream.’

Whatever we did on that blindingly lit set had purpose. It was up to us to find out what the action meant. We went deep, and then we went deeper. There was no bottom.

Someone yelled, “Cut!”

Doris didn’t even open her eyes. “We don’t want to cut,” she said. “We want to bring everything together.”

Whoever had the megaphone said, “Roll on!”

A Hard Case (Part 1)

A Hard Case (Part 2)

A Hard Case (Part 3)

A Hard Case (Part 4)

A Hard Case (Part 5)

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