Blast from the Past

The following is an excerpt from Blast from the Past, the third “Where are they now?” mystery, which will be released on Feb. 2, 2011. Making this a blast from the future.

Chapter 1

flash-forward n Simply put, the opposite of flashback; a filmic technique that depicts a scene, event or shot taking place (or imagined) or expected that is projected into a future time beyond the present time of the film, or it can be a flash-forward from the past to the present

—Tim Dirks, http://www.filmsite.org

It was a perfect night for romance. The moon was full, the temperature cool enough to make hand-holding desirable, and the only sounds were seabirds calling and the lap of the ocean waves. All that was missing was for Dylan O’Taine to leave the sanctuary of Pharos, his mystic lighthouse, to share some of his magic.

Unfortunately, Tilda was alone except for a cell phone, and though she was talking to a man, he was quite happily married.

The man in question, Tilda’s friend Cooper, asked, “How much longer are you going to be on the Cape?”

“As long as I can get away with. Did I tell you what Dianne brought home last week? A snake!” Dianne was Tilda’s latest roommate.

“Don’t tell me you have a snake phobia. Do you know how Freudian that is?”

“Of course I know. My sister is a psychologist. But I don’t have a snake phobia. As pets go, snakes aren’t too bad. Except that she put it in the living room, and she was going to feed it in there.”

“I’m guessing that it doesn’t eat Purina Snake Chow.”

“Try mice. Cute little white mice who squeal when the snake starts swallowing them.”

“That is gross. You have terrible luck in roommates.”

“Tell me about it.” Tilda was apparently incapable of finding a roomie she could put up with for longer than a year. Only three months into the lease with Dianne, she was already poised to toss the woman and her never-ending pet parade into the street. It made the Cape Cod stay, even without a nice bit of arm candy to walk with in the moonlight, all the more enjoyable.

“Gotta head out,” Cooper said. “Let me know how it’s going.”

“Will do.” She hung up the phone, and once she’d put it into her pocket, realized she could hear voices. Up ahead, she saw two people walking along the other side of the road, probably heading for the building where she’d just had dinner.

The Glenham Bars Inn was on Shoreline Road, the unimaginatively named seaside road in the town of Glenham. The main inn building and cottages of varying sizes and levels of luxury were scattered on both sides of the road. With lights strung in the trees, it looked like a nicer brand of carnival, though the brochure described it as a fairy-tale setting.

From behind, Tilda heard the sound of a car engine, and stepped several more feet away from the edge of the road. The graveled path was plenty far enough from the roadway to be safe, but after an unfortunate incident some months back, being around cars tended to make her skittish.

The vehicle was going considerably faster than it should have on the curved road, and Tilda flipped him a bird as he zoomed past her. She opened her mouth to add a description of his parentage, but it turned into a gasp as the car veered into the other lane and straight at the people walking toward her. There were screams, flying gravel, and a thunk. Then the car swerved back onto the road and sped up as it went past the inn.

Tilda started running. Both the people struck were down on the ground, and only one was moving. As she reached them she realized she knew who they were—it was John Laryea and his assistant Foster. Then she realized something else. She’d recognized the vehicle, too. It hadn’t been just any car. In fact, it hadn’t been a car at all. It had been a black stretch limo, one with a very recognizable license plate. And she’d been in that limo just three days before.

Chapter 2

The Blastoffs, a live action Saturday morning show of the early eighties, featured a musical pair of brothers—Sid and Marty Blastoff—who toured the galaxy with their alien babysitter/manager Posit, spreading “love and groovy tunes.” Only eighteen episodes were filmed, and the show would probably have disappeared into obscurity like its contemporaries, Laverne & Shirley in the Army and Turbo Teen, had the show not introduced John Laryea.

Saturday Morning Spree by Charles M. Luce

Tilda and Pete Ellis could have waited inside the limo that day, but had agreed that the unseasonably warm October weather was too nice to waste, so instead were leaning against the side of the glossy black vehicle enjoying the sun when Tilda’s cell phone broke into the opening bars of the theme from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“This is Tilda.”

“What was your favorite Saturday morning show?” a familiar voice demanded to know.

“Forget it, Cooper. I told you, no more polls.”

“Come on, Tilda, I have to get a dozen more people.”

“Then you shouldn’t have laughed your ass off when I answered your questions about the shows that make me cry.”

“I couldn’t help it. I mean, you cry at the Pinky and the Brain Christmas Special.”

“Which everybody on Facebook now knows, thanks to you. They also get to mock me for my favorite romantic heroes.”

“Jonny Quest was a romantic hero?”

“Good-bye, Cooper.”

“Please, please, please. I swear, I’m on my knees. I can take a picture right now and send it to you.”

“It wouldn’t help.”

“Ten minutes. I just need ten minutes.”

“I don’t have ten minutes. I’m at the airport and John Laryea is going to be out in five.”

Pete Ellis, the limo driver, cleared his throat. “Actually, I just got word from Dom. There’s been a slight delay with the flight, and Mr. Laryea won’t be deplaning for another twenty minutes. Then they’ll have to get his luggage, and . . .”

“Thanks a lot,” Tilda said. Then inspiration struck. “Cooper, you need some fresh blood. I’m handing the phone to my new friend Pete. I know he’ll love answering your questions.”

Ignoring the look of panic on Pete’s face, she pressed her phone into his hand, and leaned back to drink a Dr Pepper from the limo’s refrigerator while he admitted to Cooper that he’d always been a fan of Scooby-Doo, Thundarr the Barbarian, and The SuperFriends. She’d halfway expected him to mention The Blastoffs, since they were waiting for the star who’d made his first foray into show business singing his way across the universe in that show, but it didn’t happen.

After Pete was finished with the survey, he handed the phone back to Tilda.

“Now it’s your turn,” Cooper said.

“I don’t want a turn. What I want is for you to deliver a message to Jillian for me. Tell her I’ve got a fresh lead on the last guy from Power Pets—I think I’ll be able to track him down within the week.”

“Oh, about that . . .”

“Don’t tell me she’s spiking the article!”

“No, she still wants it, but you don’t need to find that guy anymore. We found him.”

“What do you mean you found him? I’ve spent the last three weeks looking for him. Nobody knows where he is.”

“We do now. He heard from one of his costars that we wanted to talk to him, and he got in touch with us. Nicole did a phone interview with him this morning.”

“You have got to be kidding me! Which costar? They all swore that they didn’t know where he was!”

“Joy something. The one who did Clueless Cub.”

“Joy Baird? That bitch!” Tilda had known the woman hadn’t liked her because she’d been honest when naming her favorite character on the show—and it hadn’t been Clueless Cub. She’d thought Baird might be holding out on her, but hadn’t expected her to pull an end run. “What am I supposed to do with the interviews I’ve already done?”

“Nicole is going to send you her notes so you can integrate the material with your stuff.”

She took a deep breath. “Fine, I can do that.”

“Um, Jillian says she’s going to dock your pay a little, too.”

“Of course she is. Why would she pay for my epic fail?”

“It’s not epic,” Cooper objected. “Everybody has an off day.”

“This is my second off day in a month.”

“Hey, that other guy wasn’t your fault. How were you supposed to know he’d had a sex-change operation and moved to Denmark?”

“Whatever.”

“Tilda . . .”

“Sorry, can’t talk. Here comes Laryea! Bye!”

Pete was straightening up to greet the arriving star until he realized Tilda was blowing off Cooper.

“Sorry,” she said. “I needed to get off the phone.”

“Anything wrong?”

“I just found out I screwed up an assignment.”

“It happens.”

“I guess.” Except that finding the formerly famous was supposed to be her specialty, and missing two targets in less than a month wasn’t going to instill confidence in the editors from whom she was soliciting work. Entertain Me! was one of her best markets, and if Jillian, the editor in chief, decided they didn’t need her, there went a large slice of her income.

Pete waggled a finger at her. “No brooding. It’s too nice a day for it. Take a deep breath, and let it go.”

It sounded a little touchy-feely, but Tilda did so, just to be polite. And it did help a little. There would be plenty of time to brood later.

They resumed their lounging, and Tilda found it oddly comfortable for being with a man she’d just met. She took a sidewise look at Pete. He was in his midforties, with a long, angular face, a wiry build, and thick hair that either nature or nurture kept nut-brown. And damned if he didn’t look familiar!

“Pete, have we met before?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve only been in Boston for a few months.”

“Where were you before that?”

“Dallas—that’s where I met Dom, and he talked me into coming here to work for him.”

“You’re not originally from Texas are you? Not with that accent.”

He chuckled. “No, I bounced around quite a bit. I grew up in Colorado.”

“Oh well,” she said, mystified. “You sure look familiar.”

“Just that kind of a face, I guess.” Then Pete put his hand to his earpiece and listened for a few seconds. “Dom says he’s got Laryea and his group, and they’ve got the luggage. They’ll be on the way out in a few.”

He tossed away the Coke he’d been drinking and went to stand at attention by the door.

“What’s the etiquette here? Do I wait inside the limo or greet them outside?” Tilda had interviewed plenty of celebrities, but never in a stretch limo.

She’d been surprised when Dom Tolomeo of Tolomeo Personal Protection had called the day before to offer her a private interview with Laryea. The idea was for her to ride along on the trip from Boston’s Logan Airport to Glenham, the town on the Cape where Laryea was headed to film location shots for his new movie. Dom had sent Pete Ellis, a combination limo driver and bodyguard, to pick her up that morning.

“Have you met Laryea before?” Pete asked.

She shook her head.

“Then you probably want to let Dom introduce him and his crew out here, and then let Mr. Laryea decide where he wants everybody to sit.”

“Fair enough.” That meant she was standing next to Pete when she saw Dom, Laryea, and the rest of the party come out of the terminal. They were at a dead run.

She heard squawks from Pete’s earpiece, and he said, “Forget what I said before—GET IN!”

Tilda threw herself back into the limo, staying as far away from the door as possible as a confusion of people tossed massive amounts of luggage into the trunk. As Pete jumped into the front seat, with Dom taking shotgun, three men and two women flung themselves into the back with Tilda, with one of the men ending up with his head in her lap.

Tilda caught a glimpse of a redheaded guy in jeans running toward them like a bat out of hell. He looked as if he wanted to get in front of the limo to block them, and Tilda heard Pete mutter, “Blasting off!” as he revved the engine and peeled out. The guy jumped back onto the sidewalk, but Tilda was no longer paying attention. Instead, she’d realized why it was Pete Ellis looked familiar.

He might be driving a limo, but unless she’d completely lost her touch, at one point he’d piloted a fictional spaceship. Pete Ellis was Spencer Marshall, the man who’d costarred in The Blastoffs with John Laryea.

Chapter 3

The Blastoffs was half adventure show and half music video, much like The Bugaloos. The Blastoff brothers rescued space princesses and saved orphans from certain death, while still making it to their concerts on time. Elder brother Sid (Spencer Marshall) was the brains and played guitar, while Marty (John Laryea) was the romantic dreamer and keyboardist. Comic relief was provided by Posit (“Himself”), the wisecracking Twizzle who played the drums.

Saturday Morning Spree by Charles M. Luce

Tilda would liked to have spent more time thinking about her discovery, but she was distracted by the man whose head was in her lap.

Now she knew why Dom had invited her to come along.

He was a dark-haired Italian stallion. Not that Tilda could identify his nationality just by looking at him. She’d been told about it when they first met, a few days before their first date. It was Nick Tolomeo, her ex-boyfriend. Not coincidentally, he was Dom’s son and favorite employee.

The blond man Tilda recognized as John Laryea said, “Did we lose him?”

“Dad, did we shake him?” Nick asked as he tried to untangle himself from Tilda.

Dom was looking behind them in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, we’re clear. By the time he gets to his car, we’ll be long gone.”

Laryea and the other members of his party sank back into their seats in relief, Nick finally got himself situated, and to give him credit, he looked as taken aback to see Tilda as she was to see him. After a moment of staring at one another, they both turned to glare at Dom, who was carefully not looking in their direction.

Then Nick lifted one eyebrow quizzically, and glanced at his father. Tilda and Nick had dated long enough for her to interpret his expressions. He’d had no idea she was going to be in the limo, but obviously his father was up to something. She shrugged in response, knowing he’d realize that she was just as much Dom’s hapless pawn as he was.

Then they both nodded, agreeing that it wasn’t the time to discuss it.

Out loud Tilda asked, “Who did we shake?”

“A stalker,” Nick said. “The guy was waiting by baggage claim, may have known we were coming.”

“What did he do?”

“He followed me into the john,” Laryea said indignantly, “and pulled out a camera while I was pissing!”

“Geez! Did he get a picture?”

“Nope,” Nick said. “I went in to let Mr. Laryea know we had the luggage and grabbed the camera just in time. The guy started squawking, but I held onto it until Dad got Mr. Laryea away, and when he grabbed at it, it slipped into the toilet. It’ll still work if he got it out in time. Probably.”

“Excuse me,” a man Tilda didn’t know said, “but who are you?”

“Sorry,” Dom said from the front seat. “There hasn’t exactly been time to make introductions. John, this is Tilda Harper, the reporter I told you about. She’s going to be interviewing you during the drive to the Cape.”

Tilda offered the star her hand, which he took in a manly but sensitive grasp. Laryea was famous for manly yet sensitive roles, an everyman rising to the occasion when caught up in bigger events—a kind of low-grade Harrison Ford. In his last three pictures, he’d played a man whose wife and kids had been kidnapped by drug dealers, an accountant who unknowingly uncovered an international conspiracy, and a researcher who’d realized that his chemical discoveries were being misused by arms merchants. He’d risen to the occasions successfully enough that he was now counted on to open pictures.

“A pleasure,” Laryea said.

Nick took over the introductions. “This is Francis Foster, John’s personal assistant.”

Foster, a slight man with tight lips, took her hand in a much less impressive clasp and said sharply, “The story about the restroom stalker is off the record.”

“No problem,” Tilda said. It was more of a tabloid story, anyway, which meant that she wasn’t professionally interested.

Nick went on. “This is Joni Langevoort, who is directing Pharos, and Edwina Hudson, who is producing.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Tilda said. Langevoort was an attractive blonde with a petite figure, blue eyes, and a friendly smile. Hudson was taller, darker, and, though she smiled, too, looked considerably more reserved. Tilda knew from her advance research that the pair made movies together. Langevoort was known to be the creative half of the team while Hudson was the practical one. Most of their previous work had been smaller films—well-reviewed with modest box office numbers—but casting Laryea to play Dylan O’Taine in the adaptation of the cult comic book Pharos could put them into the big leagues.

Nick continued in his role as host by making sure everybody was comfortable and then dispensing drinks all around. Tilda really wasn’t sure what had happened to her Dr Pepper in all the excitement, but turned down a replacement so she could have her hands free to take notes. As she pulled out her pad and tape recorder, Nick said, “Should we rearrange so that Mr. Laryea and Tilda are sitting closer?”

“I don’t know why this couldn’t wait until later,” Foster said with a sniff. “Mr. Laryea deserves a moment to relax.”

“If Mr. Laryea would prefer that, I’m fine with it,” Tilda said. She’d rather not conduct an interview as a spectator sport anyway.

But Laryea said, “No, this is perfect. It’s a long drive, and I can’t think of anything that would be more pleasant than chatting with a lovely young lady. And please, call me John.”

Joni and Edwina shared an indulgent look which told Tilda that maybe it was just as well she wasn’t interviewing the man on her own, while Foster just pursed his lips and reluctantly switched places with Tilda.

After she took care of the preliminaries—asking if it was okay to record the interview and so forth—Tilda said, “I’d like to start with some of your early experiences in the business, working on The Blastoffs.” She couldn’t help looking toward the front seat, but there was no reaction from Pete. Could she have been wrong about him?

Laryea said, “The Blastoffs . . . Wow, I was just a kid then.”

In fact, Laryea had been nineteen when that show was filmed, but Tilda knew that most actors preferred to shave a year or three off their ages whenever possible. To be fair, it wasn’t purely vanity. Hollywood was known for its bias against older actors, particularly in action hero roles. So she just said, “That was your first big break, wasn’t it?”

“Yes and no. It was a start, but it was my work on More Bitter than Death that really got the industry’s attention.” He went on to describe how wonderful it had been to work with Emma Thompson and Mark Wahlberg in that film. That led him to talk about how wonderful it was to work with the people in his next few movies—in fact, how wonderful the entire industry was to work with and how each new project was a virtual Eden of a working environment.

Tilda dutifully wrote down every ecstatic quote, not because they were particularly interesting or insightful, but because she was pretty sure that’s all she was going to get. Laryea was, after all, trying to promote himself and Pharos, in that order. That meant he wasn’t going to admit that he hated the script for last year’s movie—he was still trying to sell DVDs of that movie and the rumored sequel. And he wasn’t going to say he hated the other actors cast in Pharos—he was going to be working with them for the better part of a year. Besides, his director and producer were sitting right there. Naturally he was going to put a positive spin on everything.

Tilda understood completely. She was just a little bit bored with it all.

Laryea got his flirt on halfway through the interview, but for three reasons, Tilda ignored it. One, she wasn’t particularly attracted to the guy. Two, even if she had been, she wasn’t willing to provide drive time entertainment for the other people in the car, especially not an ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend’s father. And three, experience had taught her that if she remained aloof, Laryea would keep answering her questions in hopes of winning her over, whereas if she flirted back, he’d lose all interest in the interview, which would give her nothing for her article but lame double entendres.

By the time they reached the Sagamore Bridge, which carried them across the Cape Cod Canal and onto the Cape itself, Tilda was so bored that she was thinking that maybe she should have gone for the double entendres. Despite a tsunami of name-dropping, Laryea wasn’t open enough for a stellar interview.

When Foster insisted that Laryea take a phone call, Tilda was more than ready to conclude the interview, and was satisfied to watch the scenery go by for the rest of the drive.

Chapter 4

Local cartoon hosts loom large in the memories of their fans, no matter how cheesy their costumes or goofy their dialog, and former viewers are just as excited about meeting Rex Trailer or Sonic Man as they ever were. Hugh Wilder, more commonly known as Quasit to Cape Cod’s former cartoon viewers, recently headlined a family festival in Glenham, and fans waited for an hour or more for autographs.

—“Hey Kids! It’s Cartoon Time!” by Tilda Harper in Entertain Me!

About half an hour later, Pete pulled the limo into the circular driveway in front of the Glenham Bars Inn, a gorgeous white clapboard hotel straight out of the Gilded Age. Tilda had been part of an extremely fancy wedding there a few years before, and knew the basic layout. The inn itself was the biggest building, and contained the dining room, bar, and a selection of rooms ranging from deluxe to more deluxe to obscenely deluxe. It was situated high enough up that there was a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean from the veranda and dining room. Shoreline Road, which naturally enough paralleled the shore, ran in front of it, and across the road were more of the inn’s facilities: the tennis courts and shop, boathouse, and pool, which was usually much nicer to swim in than the ocean itself. In case guests preferred more privacy or space than the main building provided, there were two dozen or more cottages clustered behind the Inn and along Shoreline, on both sides of the road.

The place reeked of old New England money, the kind of people for whom summer was a verb instead of a noun. Tilda had shared a cottage with four other bridesmaids for that wedding, and had been relieved that she hadn’t had to pay for it herself. Even a fifth of the cost would have devastated her budget for months afterward.

As the limo slowed smoothly to a stop, Tilda made a quick check to make sure that she’d gathered all her stuff, so she didn’t see what John Laryea was seeing. All she knew was that the previously genial star had suddenly burst into a string of profanities.

When she looked out the window, it was all she could do to keep from laughing. Standing on the veranda, waving merrily, was a neon green fuzzy alien with a rotund tummy, big googly eyes, and three shaky antennae.

“What the hell is that?” Joni asked.

“It’s Posit, the wisecracking Twizzle from The Blastoffs,” Tilda explained. The wisecracks hadn’t been particularly good ones, but certainly funny enough for the demographic at which the show was aimed.

“I am not going out there!” Laryea said.

“Dom, get rid of him!” Edwina said, and though Dom looked as if there were nothing he’d less rather do, he climbed out of the limo, pulled up his khakis, and went into battle. Tilda could see that it must have been nearly impossible for Dom to get tough with a guy in a green fur suit. In fact, she didn’t think a color change would have helped—any furry suit would have made it hard to get macho. At any rate, the discussion stretched into minutes.

“Why is he still here?” Laryea asked angrily.

“I think he’s hoping for a photo op with his former costar,” Tilda said, since there was a photographer snapping photos of Dom and Posit.

“Hell, no!”

Dom seemed to be making some progress. Posit removed his head. Or rather, the man inside removed the big fur headpiece, revealing a somewhat wilted-looking older man with bright blue eyes and a cherubic grin.

“That’s not . . .” Pete started to say.

“I know, technically, it’s not Posit,” Tilda said. “After The Blastoffs went off the air, Hugh Wilder there got hired to host a kids’ cartoon show here on the Cape. He wanted to use the Posit character, but the studio’s lawyers objected, so he altered the costume just enough to keep from violating the copyright or trademark or whatever.” As Tilda recalled, Posit had two antennae while Quasit had three, and Quasit was a brighter green and didn’t wear a shiny vest like Posit. Plus Wilder got rid of the tail because it was a pain to work with. “He doesn’t do the cartoon show anymore, but he’s still enough of a public figure to show up at parades and kids’ festivals around here.”

“How do you know this?” Nick asked.

“I interviewed Wilder a couple of years ago. I was doing a piece on former cartoon show hosts: Bozo the Clown from Boston, Sonic Man from North Carolina, and of course, Posit. Or Quasit. He’s a sweet old guy, really.”

“I don’t care if he’s Mother Teresa—I want him out of here!” Laryea snapped.

Dom wasn’t having any luck, and Tilda could hear Joni and Edwina muttering about the bad press resulting if Laryea snubbed Posit/Quasit or, worse still, indulged in a star-power temper tantrum. Though Tilda didn’t particularly care if Laryea made an ass of himself publicly, she did care about Dom getting into trouble. And of course, doing a pair of powerful moviemakers a favor could only help an entertainment reporter.

“I’ve got an idea,” Tilda said, “but it’ll mean a slight bit of pretense.”

“Lie through your teeth if you have to, just keep him away from me,” Laryea said.

“Nick, is there a back door into the hotel?”

He nodded.

“Good. I’m going to get out of the limo in a minute, and when I do, drive around to the back and take Mr. Laryea in that way.”

“Won’t Posit just follow us?” Nick asked.

“I think I can distract him.”

She opened the door just enough to slip out, and as soon as she slammed the door behind her, the limo took off.

As Nick had predicted, Posit started down the stairs and toward the limo.

“Mr. Wilder!” Tilda said cheerily. “Remember me? Tilda Harper.” She stuck out her hand, which he automatically took to shake. “I am so glad I ran into you. I had a computer meltdown a few months ago, and lost your contact information, and I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with you to arrange an interview.”

Interview was the magic word. Unsurprisingly for a man who routinely ran around in a fur alien suit, Wilder liked nothing better than to meet with the press. He straightened up and gave her a big smile. “An interview with me? About my work with sick children?”

“That might be a good sidebar, but I was really hoping to talk to you about your work on The Blastoffs. Maybe a bit about what John Laryea was like to work with as a kid?”

“Wouldn’t it be better to talk with both of us at the same time?” he said, looking in the direction the limo had gone.

“I wanted to get the background from you first.” She lowered her voice. “Besides, John is feeling a bit under the weather. He’s not sure if it’s a stomach bug or something they fed him on the plane, and he would have come out to see you himself, but his assistant Foster insisted he go get some rest. I don’t have to tell you what a mess it would be if production was slowed up by illness. When we spoke before, didn’t you mention something about the time both of the Blastoff brothers got chicken pox right before filming?” He had, in fact, told her about it in excruciating detail, pox-by-pox, but he couldn’t wait to tell her again. They found a couple of wicker chairs on the veranda to sit on, and once Tilda pulled out her notebook and tape recorder, he happily launched into it.

In the meantime, Dom scooted into the inn and the bored photographer took a few shots before trudging away.

Unfortunately for Tilda, the interview with Wilder was even less interesting than the one with Laryea had been.

After the chicken pox story, he started gushing. “It was like a family on that show, a big happy family. The boys were just amazing to work with, too. John had this spark in him from day one. You could see the greatness there.” And so on, and so on, and so on.

Not that Tilda had expected a lot of dirt about Laryea since Wilder wanted to play up his great friendship with the star, but she’d have been happy with something human. Surely Laryea must have flubbed a shot or played a prank on the director or tried to sneak a girl into his trailer or drank too much—anything that normal teenaged boys did. But according to Posit, it was like working with a real-life Brady Bunch, without the punch lines.

After forty-five minutes of rah-rahs, she figured she’d given Laryea plenty of time to make his escape, and was ready to wind it up. She let Wilder finish the story about Laryea’s amazingly generous presents for the crew members when the show wrapped, then said, “This has been great. I really appreciate your candor, Mr. Wilder.”

“Call me Hugh!” he said. “Or Quasit.” He looked around and winked conspiratorially. “If the lawyers aren’t listening, you can even call me Posit.”

“You bet.”

“Did you want to get some pictures?”

“Absolutely,” she lied, and took more shots of him than she would ever want, with and without the Quasit head. Then she accepted the hug Wilder was determined to give her.

“Maybe I should go inside and check in on Johnny,” Wilder said.

“I got the idea he was going to go straight to bed, and keep quiet for the rest of the evening. He’s got some prep work for tomorrow.”

“That’s Johnny,” Wilder said fondly. “Always a professional. I’ll call him tomorrow.”

He headed out to the parking lot while Tilda packed her notebook and other odds and ends into the black leather messenger bag she used to carry far too much stuff. Then she pulled out her phone to make a quick e-mail check, and replied to a couple of messages.

She was about to go inside when she saw that Wilder was still in the parking lot, talking to somebody. She moved close enough to recognize the other person as Pete, the limo driver.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” she murmured to herself, and on a whim, snapped a couple of pictures of the two men. Of course, if Pete really was Spencer Marshall, it made all kinds of sense. But the fact that he’d waited for Wilder out there rather than joining them on the veranda made for a bit of a mystery, and an intriguing one at that.

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