Best Murder of the Year

A Rick Domino Mystery

Rick Domino Mysteries (Volume 1)

Jon P. Bloch

Minotaur Books

 
1
Even before all the fuss about murder, I knew that it just wasn’t going to be my night.
There I was, Rick Domino, America’s number one gossip columnist, hosting a live pre-Oscar telecast outside the Shrine Auditorium. Amid the usual hysteria of screeching fans, honking limos, and scads of TV journalists competing to be heard, I chatted cavalierly with every big name in the business. Flashbulbs popped as Sharon Stone rushed across the red carpet to kiss me on both cheeks. Harrison Ford put a brotherly hand on my shoulder. Tom Cruise said he’d be sure to tell his kids that “Uncle Rick” said hi. Obnoxiously bright and splashy colors made a comeback that year—I privately called it the Bad Acid Trip Look—and each actress tried to outdazzle the last with her gaudy hot pink gown and de rigueur rented diamond necklace. The humid, Palm Springs-ish twilight air was thick with the smell of thousand-bucks-an-ounce designer fragrance. It was the smell of money, and even on a phony-baloney smog-filled night in Hollywood, money smells mighty good.
Millions of people would’ve given their eyeteeth to be me. Yet all I could think about was how soon the whole thing would be over. I wasn’t cynical so much as in love. That’s something you learn after ten hard-boiled years of reporting on the Hollywood scene: All the Oscars and million-dollar contracts in the world add up to zip when you’re just another schmuck suffering the pangs of unrequited love.
The object of my affection was none other than Best Actor nominee Shane Kirk, nee Eddie Sharnovsky. For the past few years he’d been considered a “hot young hunk” and “rising heartthrob,” which was a fancy-schmancy way of saying he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. Why should he have to? He was the boy toy of every dirty old man producer in town—which is no short list, by the by.
Eddie—excuse me, Shane—got his big break playing an introspective jock (i.e., no acting required) on a short-lived 90210 wannabe series on a WB wannabe cable network, attracting the so-called serious attention of several heavy-hitter producers. Yada, yada, yada, and the next thing you knew, he was cast as an introspective jock in a major motion picture called Light My Fire. It was one of those parts that played itself. The moment of his suicide, when you found out his character was a case of still waters running deep, happened off-screen. But a few important critics—coincidentally enough, gay male critics—praised his “subtle underplaying.” The studio publicity machine built upon the big box office Shane had generated in a couple of teen market flicks over the past season, and bingo, you have a Best Actor nomination.
Shane faced formidable competition: Billy Bob Thornton was up for his performance as a president of the United States who is also a serial killer in the controversial Oliver Stone—Quentin Tarantino collaboration Oval Office Massacre. Tom Hanks scored as the first astronaut with Down’s syndrome in the Spielberg sci-fi weeper Beyond the Blue Horizon. Kevin Spacey played to perfection a priest with an obsession for flashing himself at nuns in the Coen Brothers’ newest quirky comedy, Saint Thang. Last, but not least, Robert De Niro stretched his acting muscle by playing a gangster in his latest Scorcese flick, Neighborhood Thug. (Sarcasm aside, critics said that he’d surpassed his work in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.)
Unfortunately for us all, Hanks, Spacey, and De Niro each already had won two Oscars, so it was unlikely any of them would win again. Thornton won before in the screenplay category, but Oval Office Massacre—not to mention Billy Bob himself—was possibly a bit too off the beaten path to signal victory. Incredulous as it seemed to industry insiders, no-talent Shane Kirk actually was considered the front-runner.
When I first met Shane, he was still Eddie. He worked as a parking valet at Planet Hollywood, which was a polite way of saying he was a prostitute. It was one-sided love-at-first-sight. One look at that finely sculpted bod, short jet-black hair, and those penetrating hazel eyes, and you’d have thought I was some sappy adolescent twit. Or, even worse, one of those ninny stars I wrote about who just got married for the zillionth time after meeting the so-called love of their life at their second-to-last stay at Betty Ford.
Within a matter of days we were talking in terms of me turning Eddie into something. I was thinking along the lines of making him some sort of all-purpose “assistant” who got me my coffee and maybe even did a little digging up of dirt behind the scenes.
Eddie, though, had other plans. Eve Harrington had nothing on him. Next thing I knew, he was under contract with some Dream-Works wannabe, getting glorified walk-ons in teen market movies starring Jennifer Love Hewitt wannabes. He’d play the hunky quarterback that the girl thought she loved only to realize he’s just an airheaded, self-absorbed nothing. It wasn’t exactly a major leap out of character for the newly christened Shane. Then came the short-lived cheap-O TV series, and, before you could say “KY,” a star was born.
In the ensuing years, Shane ignored me when he didn’t think I could advance his career. Then, interestingly enough, he’d come crawling back whenever he needed a good jolt of publicity. The acting he did off-screen far exceeded anything he did on-screen. Every single time I ended up taking him back. Once he got an Oscar nomination, he all but promised to get a sex change so that we could legally marry. But in another amazing coincidence, once the Academy voting period was over, Shane could barely even grunt in my direction.
Not helping matters was the fact that I was a totally out-of-the-closet gossip columnist while he was a totally in-the-closet movie star. Shane was ultraparanoid about even being seen with me in public. The secrecy of our relationship—if you could call it that—very much reinforced the overall shabbiness of it. Since it was unlikely that we’d ever become an “official” couple, Shane could move in and move out without thinking twice.
Well, it’s always the no-good bums who break the hearts of nice boys like me. A day or two before the Oscars, I reached a breaking point of sorts.
I blathered away about who in Hollywood had a good relationship and what I thought a good relationship was, and why a good relationship was important to me (hint-hint). In response, Shane gave me a frigidly silent routine such as the sort you’d reserve for a crazy person talking dirty to you on a public bus. Could one of his famous speeches about “needing more space” be far off? Realizing that anything was better than this relentless purgatory of off-again passing for on-again, I decided to go for broke.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman,” I stated sardonically, stirring my Campari daiquiri with a hand-blown Venetian swizzle stick. “This is Rick Domino coming to you from my ridiculously pretentious neo-art-deco Bel Air home. I’m interviewing Shane Kirk, Oscar nominee for I’m Capable of Thinking About Someone Other Than Myself for a Single Instant of Existence. Tell us, Shane, how did you prepare for this amazing performance?”
Shane gazed tirelessly at his ultraperfection in my vintage thirties beveled wall mirror. Decisions, decisions. Was he more irresistibly gorgeous with one or two wisps of hair falling onto his forehead?
“I’m sorry, Rick. Were you saying something?”
I stared numbly at my bittersweet drink. “Shane, I can’t believe what you’ve reduced me to. I’m actually going to say that things can’t go on like this. That we need to have a serious talk. And what’s even worse, it’s all true.”
“‘Serious talk?’” His brow furrowed in awe. He had heard the word “talk” before—it was what his agent told him to do during interviews—and photogs told him they needed a “serious” publicity shot to complement a smiling one. But he marveled that the English language was structured in such a way that the words “serious” and “talk” could be used beside each other, having never before considered the possibility.
“What do you want to talk about, Rick?” Before I could answer, he added, “You know, this has to be my favorite mirror in the whole wide world. Boy, I sure do like this mirror.”
I took a hefty swallow of my drink. “I’m glad you like it, Shane. If we ever tie the knot, we can put it in the prenups that the mirror is yours even if we divorce. Hell, even if I die of leprosy.”
His face lit up. “Are you serious, Rick? I mean, you’d let me have the mirror?”
“Sure. What the hell.” I poured myself a tall refill.
“I have a press conference in about an hour,” he informed me, as if further contributing to the general theme I introduced. Apparently this was Shane’s idea of serious talk. “The last big one before the Oscars. Your network’s sending somebody else. I forget who. But I gotta be good.” Translation: He had to look good. Which of course he already did. Yet I couldn’t blame poor Shane for being unable to resist his own face. Would you fault Narcissus for being narcissistic?
I semichanged the subject. “You know, I got that mirror at a charity auction. Chinchilla Rights, I think. They say it was owned by Carole Lombard. Just before her plane crashed.”
Shane did a double-take of pure ecstasy. “Wow, no wonder I always liked this mirror so much,” he generously shared, as if I sat on pins and needles awaiting explanation for his approbation of it. “I swear, Rick. It’s like I can hear Carole telling me, ’You go for it, fella.’ She sends me good luck whenever I look at myself. I just know it. I mean, they say all that psychic stuff is true, don’t they?”
His pathetic Lombard impersonation was more than matched by his faulty logic regarding the laws of karma, since poor Miss Lombard could hardly be considered the Patron Saint of Good Fortune. Besides, the steely determination with which Shane gazed at his own magnificence gave you the idea that luck had nothing to do with it. He psyched himself up for press conferences like a brain surgeon about to operate on the president of the United States.
What happened next was so shocking, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. As he hurried out the post—op art door to suck up to more reporters, he said, almost as an afterthought: “Sure. We’ll talk. But after the Oscars.” He added cryptically, “So much can change between now and then. We just have to wait, okay?”
Of course, he said this while sneaking one last glance at his godlike self in the mirror, like a schizo from a forties horror movie telling his own reflection that they needed to talk.
“When after the Oscars? A hundred years?”
Shane sighed with exasperation. How I tried his patience with my endless demands.
“Uh, right afterwards. How’s that?”
“You mean, like before the parties and stuff?” Shane not only made me suspicious, but often reduced me to speaking Valley Girl—ese.
“Sure. Why not?” His smile caught me off guard.
“Great. Let’s say backstage. Right after Best Actor.”
For about two seconds after Shane zoomed off in my silver BMW, I was so elated I felt like Tom Hanks’s mentally deficient astronaut. I even staged my own private little celebration with a fairly decent Dom Perignon ’56, and an altogether decadent container of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.
But then I got this throbbing, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that stayed with me long after my hangover. For one thing, my nutritionist was going to have fit when I told her about the Chunky Monkey. More to the point was the realization that of course Shane wanted to talk, because he wanted to tell me to get lost—as in, permanently lost. Win or lose, the Oscar nomination did the trick. He was on the “A” list for film roles. Clearly, he had no more intention of getting serious with me than he did in learning how to act. True, I was the one who said things could not go on, but obviously the dim-witted Shane took things a bit too literally.
Like someone on trial for murder awaiting the jury verdict, I both dreaded and couldn’t wait to find out what Shane had to say. Come Oscar night, it was all I could do to smilingly interview the glittering parade of celebs that passed before me. The sidewalks were a virtual land mine of cables and wires, and I was so distracted that I almost tripped straight into Brad Pitt—which, as not-so-Freudian slips go, would not have been half-bad.
As I lamely apologized on camera to Brad, a shot was heard above all the clamor. I figured it was just a car backfiring, or some dopey adolescent fan setting off a firecracker.
Then, as if through some psychic bond between lovers, I intuitively turned to see Shane Kirk some thirty feet away as he slumped to the sidewalk. The door to his limo was still open; he’d only just arrived.
The crowd shrieked. Then, like a swarm of vultures, Shane’s teenybopper devotees rushed forward, ravenous for one last souvenir of their favorite heartthrob. Only a protective circle of police officers prevented poor Shane’s body from being all but cannibalized.
Ever the trouper, I fought in vain to make my way through the mob. I managed to swallow back a flood of emotions to ad-lib that there seemed to be commotion coming from Shane Kirk’s limo. As a TV reporter, you never say more than what you know for absolute certain. I was careful to keep my facial expression one of proper concern, without registering unnecessary alarm.
“Let’s try to see what’s happened to Shane Kirk,” I bravely told the TV millions, wondering how many more seconds I could last without going hysterical with grief and rage.
BEST MURDER OF THE YEAR. Copyright © 2002 by Jon P. Bloch. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.