Westworld Finale discussion

My friend Anthony Venutolo and I discussed the Westworld Finale in his latest podcast. SPOILERS ensue.  If you like Westworld, I hope you enjoy the discussion we have.  We discuss some of the revelations, expound on our own theories, and talk about what’s next for the show.

Just click on the Youtube link below.

 

Book Review: Strike Lightning by Steve Cole (Young Bond)

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Young Bond

Steve Cole’s 3rd Young Bond book Strike Lightning comes right off the heels of his second effort Heads You Die.  Cole took over the Young Bond series from Charlie Higson who ended his tenure with By Royal Command which details the events surrounding Bond’s expulsion from Eton.  The Young Bond books themselves are a truly ambitious undertaking.  For those who are unfamiliar with the series, it attempts to fill in the gaps of Bond’s childhood using only the meager details that Fleming included in the his Bond novels, particularly from the obituary featured in the novel You Only Live Twice.  The series has followed young James throughout the 1930s starting at about the point when he was about 13 with Charlie Higson’s SilverFin.

Now with this latest installment, we find James shortly after his first term at Fettes College in Scotland where he finishes his education according to Fleming. Right before Christmas Break, James witnesses the death of a fellow student engaged in suspicious mechanical experiments with a professor. James stubbornly refuses to accept the school’s official conclusion that the death was an accident inadvertently caused by James being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Joined by his Etonian school friend Perry Mandeville, James decides to investigate the murder of his young friend only to find himself in the middle of a high stakes international weapons smuggling conspiracy with the added danger of a secret weapon possibly falling into the hands of Nazi Germany.

I don’t want to give away any SPOILERS regarding the nature of the secret weapon, but it’s one of those things that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief.  In his postscript, Cole details about how such a weapon might have been realized in the 1930s, but even he admits it’s one of those things that while not entirely impossible would have been highly improbable for the period of time in which this story takes place.

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Maximilian Blade

There are quite a few antagonists for James to square off against but not all of them turn out to be who we think they are when we first encounter them.  This is the first instance since Higson’s By Royal Command I could think of where characters employ a kind of subterfuge to disguise their true motives.  The problem for young James is that throughout the book, he has to evade all these antagonists at various times because it would appear that they are all working together in a conspiracy with serious ramifications beyond the murder of his school friend Marcus.  First, there’s Dr. Randolph Whittaker, the science teacher who the students at Fettes refer to as Captain Hook because his hand had been blown off in The Great War.  James’s friend Marcus is killed in Whittaker’s experiment. Then there’s Whittaker’s 18 year old female assistant Herta, who tries to obstruct Bond’s inquiries into the events surrounding Marcus’s death. Both Herta and Dr. Whittaker appear to be using their positions at Fettes College to facilitate weapons research for a disabled owner of a weapons manufacturing company named, Maximillian Blade.  Finally, there’s Ambassador Grünner who appears to be procuring weapons for the Nazis.  All these characters intimidate, obstruct, and harass James at one point or another until James uncovers the truth behind their conspiracy.

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Ambassador Grünner

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Kitty Drift

Luckily, James has some help along the way. He enlists the help of Perry Mandeville, who we last saw at Eton before James was expelled. He also meets up with this book’s Bond Girl – Kitty Drift, a brash, smart, and socially awkward young woman who also happens to be a train enthusiast.  Kitty’s skill set comes in handy and her obsession with train schedules and a mysterious “ghost train” all come to the forefront to help James along the journey, a journey that begins at Fettes College in Scotland, takes him to the hamlet of Ruskie and transports him to The Hague in the Netherlands and finally to an area just south of Düsseldorf in Germany where you can imagine some most perilous dangers await.

At times, Cole offers up a very vivid picture of James’s innermost thoughts and feelings.  At the beginning, he starts to dwell on the fact that since his parents died, he hadn’t truly ever felt at home except for the times when “danger [is] biting at his heels.” James was a child orphaned at the age of 11, and since then his Aunt Charmian has seen to his upbringing, however, much of his time has been spent boarding between Eton and Fettes as well as with the thrilling adventures James has found himself in throughout these 8 novels in the Young Bond series. From very early on in the series, James developed quite a taste for danger and for using his skill set and ingenuity to save himself as well as others.  By the end of Strike Lightning, we see a bit of a shift in James’s thinking about the nature of war and weaponry.  Someone along the way had lectured him about how weapons can be just as much a deterrent to war as they are a tool in warfare itself. He’s told that “Weapons save lives,” but then he asks himself “Is that what I’m becoming?” For the first time, we see Bond briefly confront the realities of his future life as an agent prior to him even realizing what his fate has in store.  It’ll be interesting to see how Cole explores this in his next and final Young Bond entry Red Nemesis due out in the Spring of 2017.

Strike Lightning is a fast paced story with many chases, some actual spying, and many thrilling confrontations.  If you enjoy the series you’ll enjoy this entry as long as you allow yourself to suspend disbelief a little which usually comes with the territory anyway with Bond.

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Steve Cole at Fettes College

Steve Cole was very meticulous in his research for this book and he actually visited Fettes College to find out what life was like there for students in the 1930s.  The school put him in touch with some actual Fettes College alumni from the era and one gets a good sense of the authenticity regarding his descriptions of James’s life at Fettes at the beginning of the book. He also went to The Hague and visited the Hotel des Indes where a pivotal scene takes place so that he could accurately describe the sequence.

Here are my previous reviews of the books in the Young Bond series.

  1. SilverFin by Charlie Higson
  2. Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
  3. Double or Die by Charlie Higson
  4. Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson
  5. Danger Society and “Hard Man to Kill” short story by Charlie Higson
  6. By Royal Command by Charlie Higson
  7. Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole
  8. Heads you Die by Steve Cole

Book Review: My Word is My Bond by Roger Moore

In 2008 Sir Roger Moore released his first book, a memoir entitled My Word is My Bond. The book is an enthralling tale that takes readers through his early childhood, his many years as a venerated actor with such prominent roles as The Saint and James Bond,  up through his present day role as an elder show business statesman and more importantly a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF.  Moore has often been described as a raconteur and this book lives up to that expectation. As a reader you feel like you’re seated with him at your favorite restaurant sipping wine as he relates colorful anecdotes of his long storied career as well as his early childhood. Born in Stockwell, his childhood was plagued by illness and having to evacuate his home town to live in Devon while the threat of bombing raids loomed over London. Moore paints a colorful portrait of his early life and career and provides a rather insightful view into the latter days of the Hollywood studio system where actors would be under exclusive contract to a film making studio and the heads of these studios wielded enormous power and control over the careers of the actors employed by them.

Moore is charmingly self-deprecating throughout holding no delusions as to his actual acting prowess.  One gets the sense that he sees himself as someone  who was extremely lucky having the right look and obtaining the right contacts, friendships, and show business relationships to mold his career over the span of decades. His one literary vice seems to be name dropping, and that is actually the one consistent flaw throughout the book.  Oftentimes an amusing anecdote is accompanied by several tangents where the name dropping can get irritating, but once you get used to it, it can get rather amusing.  Moore is also a self-confessed practical joker.  On his James Bond sets, he would often prey upon Desmond Llewelyn who played Q.  Knowing that Q’s dialogue was rather intricate and full of technobabble, he’d often get hold of the script and change Llewelyn’s lines hours before shooting forcing him to learn new dialogue.  On other occasions, Moore was a peacekeeper as on the set of The Persuaders a TV show where he costarred with Tony Curtis for 1 season as a mismatched duo who went on adventures.  When Curtis called the episode’s guest star Joan Collins the “C-word” Moore was called onto the set on his day off to diffuse the situation.

Upon getting the much coveted role of James Bond, he recalls:

I’d be the first to admit that I’d been living the good life in the previous year or so…. That was brought home to me rather curtly when Harry [Saltzman, co-producer] called me one day.

‘Cubby [Broccolli, co-producer] thinks you need to lose a little weight.’

Okay, I thought. So I started a strict diet.

The phone rang again. ‘Cubby thinks you’re a little out of shape.’

So I started a tough fitness regime.

Again the phone rang, this time it was Cubby. ‘Harry thinks your hair’s too long.’

‘Why didn’t you just cast a thin, fit, bald fellow in the first place and avoid putting me through this hell?’ I replied.

The stories he tells about making the Bond films are quite fascinating as a fan and Moore’s rather unique insight into this experience is always quite compelling and amusing:

Cubby and I visited Maurice [Binder, title designer for the Bond credits sequences featuring naked ladies ofttimes in silhouette] on his shooting stage one day and found him on his knees, lovingly spreading Vaseline over the private parts of one of his female nudes.  He said it was to keep her pubic hairs flat in front of the wind machine, so as not to incur the further wrath of the censor.

I turned to Cubby, ‘And I thought that was one of the producer’s perks?’

In a scene where Bond quips about Egyptian builders knowing full well that a representative of Egypt’s government was on set monitoring their every line, Roger suggested that he simply mouthed the line by moving his lips and not actually saying anything so that they could add the line later in post-production.  Many such stories are cleverly regaled throughout the book, however, when Roger doesn’t have something nice to say about someone he tries to keep it diplomatic by simply stating that he has nothing to say about them as is the case with Grace Jones his co-star on his final Bond film, A View to a Kill.  Jones reportedly took a large black dildo into the bed with her for their love scene, which seems to have perturbed Roger despite his penchant for practical jokes. At the same time, one gets the sense that he may have glossed over his failed marriages although he admits to sharing in some degree of fault for how they ended.  One of his ex wives spent many years denying him a divorce.

What drives the latter third of the book is his commitment to UNICEF, and we learn that despite his life of privilege Moore has done a remarkable job giving back to the world at large through his dedication to UNICEF bringing awareness to the struggle to help children in need around the globe. His major cause since he joined the organization in 1991 is to raise funds and awareness for Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) in many third world countries. It’s a preventable problem that can be resolved by simply ensuring that every household uses iodized salt to avoid all sorts of maladies and mental disorders. Moore frequently meets with heads of state on behalf of UNICEF to urge them to combat IDD in their poorest communities. Roger has led a fascinating life and he is to be commended for his commitment to UNICEF. He has received many honors for his humanitarian work, and in 2003 he was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II particularly for his work with UNICEF.  Roger Moore may not be everyone’s favorite Bond actor, but he’s lived a fascinating life.  Reading this book, you can’t help but develop a profound respect for the man. On his work for UNICEF he writes:

I’ve often been asked just how much UNICEF receives from the United Nations and why we need to raise funds.  The answer is UNICEF receives nothing from the UN, it is completely self-funded and that is why I – and others like me – go out banging the drum.  Of the money we raise, less than nine percent goes in administration costs around the world; the rest goes directly to the children

 

In the Shadows of the City

In the shadows of the city a young woman rummages through the bargain bins
Of libraries and bedraggled bookstores seeking solace as she prepares
To ascend to some far off distant land where the grit and muck
Of this world ring only a distant bell in her waking memory.
I wait at the gate with the west wind at my back gazing upon the horizon.
There’s a poetry in her every step as I see her stroll further and further away.
“Where is she off to next?” I wonder wishing I could see her off
Knowing I’ll never hold her close nor ever hold her hand.

The wind howls and the locusts sing their tune summoning me away.
They order me to leave my post at the gate and return my gaze to the city
Where the cracks in the pavement and the smell of urine on a subway platform
Compete for my undivided attention with the song of blasting sirens.
The moment I obey I know she’ll glance over her shoulder gracefully
And I know I’ll miss that moment and I’ll miss her brown bedroom eyes.
I return to the shadows of the city where the indigent barkers march
While the street sign graffiti tells me all hope is lost, dead, and buried.
I pause to wonder if a lifetime could truly be lived gazing into her beautiful eyes
Or basking in the light of her smile yet if she ever did look back before departing
I’ll  never know for sure nor would she ever know how much I wished to stay.

The Good Officer

Since we’re only a couple years shy of post-apocalyptic anarchy, I figure why not put on The Golden Girls marathon and zone out.  Besides, it’s the episode where they all go to a local mystery dinner and actors play out a murder mystery while the paying guests interact with them and help “solve the crime.”  I get a chuckle every time the detective introduces himself as Spade Marlowe. The other funny moment is when Blanche rationalizes her flirty behavior by saying “I’m Southern.”  When someone asks “what does that mean?” without a skipping a beat, Dorothy replies “It means her mother was also a slut.” It’s a whimsical moment that makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen the episode.  Life is a bit like that.  There are predictable little moments we look forward to for no logical reason other than the comfort they offer.  I figure if I can string together enough little moments like that Golden Girls exchange maybe the last few years before the world goes to shit won’t be all that bad. The only problem is that TV sitcom episodes are souless things, and I’m not quite sure if I’m capable of truly connecting with someone who has a soul.  I’m not even sure I’ve ever even tried before.

Sometimes now I walk the beat and pass the junkies and pass the prostitutes and think to myself that maybe . . . just maybe they are the way they are because they’re all clued in.  Maybe they somehow got the message intuitively, subconsciously, or through brain radio frequencies.  They must know somewhere deep down inside that the end is near. They probably look at me in my uniform walking by and think I’m a fool who doesn’t know only I do.  Maybe they question the need for any law and order at all. Why not bring on the anarchy a couple of years or so early since that’s what’s coming after all.  Why have law and order now when it won’t be here in the future?  In the future it’ll be every man, woman, and child for themselves and those who lose their grip or can’t manage will wind up in a ditch or a gutter somewhere. Only the strong-willed will survive.  I’m sure they look at me and see me as some stuck up Sisyphus when I try really hard to be an Atlas carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I plan to stick through to the bitter end. Why not?  When my time comes it comes.  If people think anarchy suits them let’s see what happens when there are none of us cops around to protect them from the mob.

For tonight, however, I’ve got my couch and I’ve got The Golden Girls and at least in this moment I can put it all out of my head.  Some guys can’t do that.  They take the job home with them.  They know the same thing I know or at least they can sense it.  How could they not?  Leonard Cohen has the perfect song to describe it.  Fittingly, it’s called “The Future.” Like the singer in the song says, “I’ve seen the future / It is murder.”  Well, Cohen may or may not be pleased to find out he was right.  In just a few years, civilization as we know it now won’t exist. I’ve seen it.  I know it. I feel it.  Now, how was your day?

Months ago I was just like everyone else, but then I saw it.  I woke up smack in the middle of it.  I went to grab my badge and gun only they weren’t there.  In their place was a discharge form from the new government.  “We regret to inform you your services are no longer required.” For a second I thought I must be dreaming but then I turn on the news and it’s all but confirmed.  The anarchists have taken over our democracy and so the epic national destruction of our country began. I step outside and see looting everywhere. I see men who used to be beggars hurting children and running off with cheap electronics. “Give me Honda, give me Sony … So cheap and real phony.” You gotta love The Clash. I know I’m in law enforcement and I’m supposed to look down on punk music for its anti-authority anti-law enforcement propaganda, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the last real rock band that said it like it is.  Kids these days have Kanye … what a waste.  The Clash were real artists, they were men who wanted to make a difference with their music. Kanye is just a jerk who struck gold.  Well, all the wealth in the world won’t protect him when the anarchy comes. He’ll be one of the first to suffer the blade of the guillotine and I say good riddance.  If the world has to go to shit just so Kanye could shit his pants as his own fans cheer on his beheading so be it.  Like I said, I’ve got The Golden Girls right now so I’m not worried.

I know most of you won’t believe this.  You’ll think I’m just a cop who went postal. That’s fine with me if you don’t believe my story.  As I told you, I woke one day and I was there.  I was 2 years in the future and let me tell you a lot can happen in 2 years.  That first day in the future was a shock. I was scared to leave my apartment.  Every time I looked out the window there seemed to be shots fired in my general direction and there were riots that seemed to go on all through the night.  People were angry. No surprise there. People are always angry. I see it every day. I’m a cop. That’s practically all I see.  The next day, I grabbed my neighbor, Lenny who lived in the apartment next door.  His eyes were hollow, his skin pale, and his hair looked as if it had been indiscriminately ripped from his skull.  This guy used to look like Jerry Garcia but now he looked like a thin pale hobo who had been repeatedly brutalized.

I said, “Hey man what’s going on?”

He said, “You shouldn’t be here. If they find out you’re here, they’ll kill both of us.”

“Who’s they”

“What are you nuts? The anarchists have taken over this city, this state, this country.  It’s every man for themselves and the first group of people they hunt down are cops.  They know where you live. I’m surprised they haven’t come for you yet.”

“When did this happen?”

“It’s been happening for years but they completed their takeover just 3 weeks ago.  We were on the safe part of town.  Don’t you remember?”

“Maybe I was hit in the head.  I don’t know what happened so please just tell me.”

“You and a group of cops led the resistance and put up a barricade all across what used to be the 5 Points. You and your men were brave.  You fought but just about all of you perished.”

“I don’t remember any of it.”

“You bought us some time and I’m grateful for that, but now that the anarchists have penetrated the barricade, it’s a done deal.  It’s everyone for themselves.”

I sat and hid in my apartment for the next day or so.  I figured they must have looked here for me already and when they didn’t find me, they would have moved on figuring that I’d be crazy to come back. I dug out my old laptop from back in the closet and tapped into my neighbor’s wi-fi and all but confirmed the rest.  It was like the French Revolution or The English Civil War.  After the dismissal of law enforcement came martial law and the execution of anyone who had any kind of position of wealth and or fame.  They took particular pleasure in tormenting every Reality TV star they could find.  I don’t even want to describe what they did to the Kardashians. Executions became theater pieces streamed over the internet over Youtube and Netflix.  The soundtrack to just about every image seemed to be the R.E.M. song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”  Just about every meme and video played it as a celebratory anthem.

I watched what was going on and it didn’t faze me one bit.  Everyone talks about how humanity is such a fragile thing.  We’re all little snowflakes on our own private little journeys and all that crap, when really the true nature of humanity is chaos and cruelty and the human psyche can get accustomed to just about anything.  If I wanted to, I could surrender to the same urges as the people out there.  It would be so easy too. I can even understand why they do it.  In the absence of order, people will rationalize just about any kind of behavior. That’s why religion was so important to the history of human kind. Religion kept people from this.  If people believe there is a God watching their every move, they decide it’s best to err on the side of caution.  Somehow, the big secret was revealed therefore unraveling those checks and balances human nature placed upon itself.  The only “good” people who are left are those who choose not to submit to the chaos, those of us who never believed in the bullshit of religion in the first place, those of us who were always moral non-violent people because we chose to be and not because we fear retribution from an invisible man in the sky.

When I wake up back in my own time, my first instinct is to warn everyone, but they will all think I’m crazy so I just resume my life.  I man my post like a good officer, like a good soldier. I show up for roll call, I walk my beat, I get my collars, and that’s it. That’s all I can do until the day comes when none of that matters anymore. When the world goes to shit, no one will be left to care what parking tickets I wrote or if some girl was really driving while texting when I pulled her over. I laugh inside a little bit when they say they’ll fight the ticket in court.  Ha! Soon there will be no court but there will be no tickets either. I let them have their little victories.  They will all have their ultimate victory in the end and it’ll be a force to reckon with.  Maybe they’ll deserve it and maybe they won’t.  That’s how fate is.  It’s indiscriminate. It doesn’t care, but if I can string together just enough little moments to prove to myself that this life was worth something maybe it’ll counterbalance the indiscriminate nature of fate.

Maybe, I’ll ask Debbie out on a date for Saturday night. I met her at the deli and I must have said something to make her laugh and she smiled at me and we talked. She gave me her number and I held onto it, but then I had that little detour in post-apocalyptic hell and now it feels like ages ago.  Maybe she’ll say yes or maybe she’s forgotten who I was. Maybe she just liked the uniform, but at this point who cares.  All I can think of now are her eyes.  She has the kind of eyes that could make a man want to be all he could be just so he can prove himself worthy of her trust.  It’s hard to describe but in that brief meeting she was both inquisitive about me while giving off a studious vibe. I suppose that gets me every time. Anyway, if I can string together enough good moments where I can at least forget about the fate of humanity for a little while even if those moments are brief, perhaps this will all be worth it. Just like I put the job away in the back of my mind, I think I can compartmentalize enough to put the future I saw behind me too. After all, there must be enough things to laugh at, enough people to smile with, and enough clean air to breathe in to serve as fallback memories before everything falls asunder. If I could only feel her warm body close to mine, if I could only taste the sensuousness of her lips, maybe it’ll be enough to distract me from the ultimate fate of all humanity.  Temporary distractions are the name of the game and  some are more worthwhile than others.  For now I have my couch and The Golden Girls and all is right with the world.  Perhaps that will be enough after all. 10-4… Over and out.

Terence Winter and HBO Part Ways on Vinyl

On April 8th, fans of HBO’s series Vinyl were disappointed and shocked to learn that co-creator, showrunner, writer, and executive producer Terence Winter has been let go from his ongoing role in the series.  Terence Winter’s tenure on HBO goes all the way back to The Sopranos where he wrote 25 episodes and became an executive producer.  He then went on to create and write for Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Prohibition era drama set in Atlantic City starring Steve Buscemi, serving as show runner and executive producer alongside Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, and Sopranos alum Tim Van Patten.

Set in 1973, Vinyl stars Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra, a struggling record company owner driven over the edge by the frantic music scene who must deal with personal andvinyl-interview-terence-winter-hbo-theliptv-media-mayhem professional challenges including a haunted past in the industry, a fractured relationship with his wife Devon, and an unfortunate series of events that has led him to take part in a homicide.  Adding to all this is the chaotic atmosphere of sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in the early 70s music scene.  The ensemble also features a very talented group of supporting cast members including Ray Romano as Zak, Richie’s partner and confidant; Max Casella as Julian head of A&R; James Jagger (son of co-creator Mick Jagger) as the leader of a proto-punk band named The Nasty Bits; Juno Temple as one of Richie’s assistants driven to move up in the company who becomes a champion of The Nasty Bits; and Olivia Wilde as Devon Finestra who struggles with her past as a former aspiring model for Andy Warhol having settled down with Richie to become a housewife and stay at home mother for their children.

The series has garnered some critical praise but has thus far failed to come close to achieving the ratings success of Winter’s previous work with the Sopranos or even on Boardwalk Empire.  The timing of his termination from the series is somewhat curious.  The show has already been picked up for a 2nd season, a move that came soon after the series pilot premiered on February 14th, and the upcoming season finale is scheduled to air on April 17th. It just so happens that the season finale offers what most likely will turn out to be Winter’s final screenplay for the series, perhaps even with HBO at least for the foreseeable future.  If that seems a bit odd it might be because Winter’s tenure with HBO began 16 years ago during season 2 of The Sopranos when he wrote for the show and became co-producer.  Since then, it seems that Winter has had a consistently active role in multiple HBO projects either writing screenplays, developing new projects, or acting as an executive producer and showrunner.

tumblr_m3gqnitZJ51rtg414o2_1280Winter’s Sopranos season 3 episode “Pine Barrens” remains a favorite among the fans, and while David Chase deserves much of the praise for the success of the Sopranos overall, Terence Winter’s writing played a pivotal role and it can be argued that his “Pine Barrens” episode set the tone for the way the series ultimately ended.   When asked about the fate of the Russian mafia henchman who Paulie and Christopher spend most of the episode tracking in vain, Terrence Winter responded:

“That’s the question I get asked more than any other. It drives people crazy: “Where’s the Russian? What happened to the Russian?” We could say, “Well, he got out and there’s a big mob war with the Russians,” or “He crawled off and died.” But we wanted to keep it ambiguous. You know, not everything gets answered in life”

It shouldn’t strike anyone as coincidence that even as early as season 3 The Sopranos team were consciously thinking about open endings.  Indeed, The Sopranos changed television in ways that many might now take for granted.  As the series went on, more and more emphasis was placed on thematic elements rather than plot; we spent more time with the ensemble cast in multiple character arcs; and the show marked a stark contrast from the episodic television dramas that had come before.

When The Sopranos ended, Winter went on to collaborate with Martin Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire for HBO, an ambitious period crime drama starring Steve Buscemi set in Prohibition era Atlantic City.

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Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire

The show received high critical praise but lower ratings in the later seasons combined with the high costs of production forced HBO to ask Winter to bring the show to a premature conclusion.  Boardwalk Empire ultimately lasted 5 seasons, and even though it never reached the cultural iconic benchmark set by The Sopranos, it still stands as a highly remarkable creative accomplishment for Winter. It brought to the audience a world where fictional characters within the show’s universe were able to interact and engage with historical figures in meaningful and oftentimes very fascinating and unexpected ways.  Boardwalk Empire presented an even greater creative challenge for Winter because he had to figure out viable ways for notable historical characters such as Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, and Lucky Luciano to interact within the universe of the show in a way that not only makes sense for the show creatively but also in a way that is representative of what the real person’s biographical history was for that time.  It’s for this reason that I believe that Winter along with the rest of Boardwalk’s creative team pulled off some magnificently brilliant work for this series.  Each season represented not only a year in the life of the fictional characters in the show but also a year in the life of the characters who had real life counterparts within that era of American history.  Unlike The Sopranos who were able to do whatever they liked to any of their characters, Boardwalk Empire had a responsibility to stay true to real life history only taking creative license when absolutely necessary.

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When it comes to Vinyl, there could be many reasons for the low ratings.   The show has yet to post a rating of over a million viewers for an episode, which Boardwalk Empire had been able to do even during the latter half of its run.  Some may say that the decline of Rock music in general may be indicative of the lack of interest in a show that is meant to summon nostalgia for this period for the audience. While it’s true that Rock has taken a bit of a back seat to Hip Hop and Country, I still think a show like this with its unique insight into the record industry should be of interest to younger viewers.  The question is whether or not younger viewers who have so many choices when it comes to scripted dramas will seek out a show like this.

The biggest disadvantage that Vinyl has for audiences who do actively seek it out is that it simply can’t do what Boardwalk Empire did when it cast real life historical figures as integral members of its ensemble. While the cameo appearances of iconic musical figures like David Bowie, John Lennon, and Elvis should be enough to make any serious music fan at least curious, this may also work against the show. None of these legendary characters could ever be integrated into the fabric of the show in any meaningful way for obvious logistical reasons, and even if they could integrate a musical icon or two into the show, the level of scrutiny would be enormous.

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Richie tries to get Elvis to come to his label

It wouldn’t have even been possible to include series co-creator and executive producer Mick Jagger into the show this season because the show is set mostly in New York and The Rolling Stones were touring Europe in 1973 supporting their Goats Head Soup album.   Besides, if you had Mick Jagger, Elvis, or John Lennon become a part of this show the way Al Capone became a part of Boardwalk Empire it would completely alter the entire nature of the show and divert attention and focus away from the fictional characters in the show.  Boardwalk Empire was able to achieve a balance between its fictional and nonfictional characters in a way that just wouldn’t be sustainable for a show like Vinyl.

It’s also possible that this new crop of fictional characters are either failing to resonate with audiences or perhaps taking too long for audiences to respond to.  Like any new series, Vinyl has had to contend with a few growing pains.  Bobby Cannavale is a brilliant actor who brings a very frantic charm to the role of Richie, but there are times when his self-destructive behavior becomes predictable.  Even though Cannavale is fascinating to watch, there are instances where you could tell where the show is taking him and when an audience is able to predict where the show is going it’s never a good thing.  The supporting cast has been equally impressive but earlier episodes failed to give Olivia Wilde enough to do.

Now that Winter will no longer be a part of Vinyl, HBO has called on Scott Z. Burns and Max Borenstein to run the show, which leaves serious doubts concerning the show’s viability.  There have been other shows that were able to succeed without a key showrunner or creator who developed them, but for an HBO series developed by Terence Winter to continue on without him seems a bit dubious.  Whether the new showrunners take the show in an entirely new direction than what Winter intended remains to be seen.  According to a previous interview with Winter, he had intended each season of the show to represent a year in the lives of the characters similar to how it had been done on Boardwalk Empire.

“The series will progress in time like Boardwalk did. So, we’ll probably move forward into 1974 when we come back; ’74 was the year that CBGB’s opened, it was the year that The Ramones kind of formed. The Vietnam War was officially over so you had a lot of guys coming back from that too.”

It should also be noted that for both Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl, Terence Winter hosted the “Inside the Episode” featurettes where he talks about each episode exploring the various themes he wanted to get across throughout the course of the show.  You can find them on HBO’s site or on youtube. They offer some insights into the creative team’s process for each individual episode regarding character arcs and various plot and thematic elements, which many will no doubt find interesting if you follow his shows.

Capture

The season finale for Vinyl is set to air on Sunday, Aprl 17th. The screenplay was written by Terence Winter, and as it stands it may be the final screenplay by Winter we will get to see on HBO.  Given his longstanding creative output with HBO, let’s hope that won’t be the case.

 

Sources for ratings and quotes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boardwalk_Empire_episodes#Season_1_.282010.29

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_(TV_series)#cite_note-BiancoS1Review-31

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_Barrens_(The_Sopranos)

Source for Winter’s remarks regarding S2 of Vinyl

‘Vinyl’ Showrunner Terence Winter Exits HBO Series, New Showrunner Named

How Stephen King’s JFK Novel Echoes Fleming’s Least Known Bond Novel

Proof that Bond follows me everywhere: I decided to take a little break from reading all things Bond so a while ago I began reading Stephen King’s time travel novel 11/22/63 about a school teacher who ends up going through a portal that takes him to 1958. I wanted to read the book before watching the miniseries on Hulu which deviates a bit from the original novel (fans of King’s novel IT will find the return of few key characters). The owner of the diner where the portal resides implores Jake, the protagonist, to live in the past long enough to thwart the Kennedy assasination (hence the title). So, I’m  about 600+ pages along (the book is about 853pgs long) and I come across this paragraph:
“… at five that afternoon I was sitting across from the Greyhound terminal on South Polk Street, near the intersection of Highway 77 and the still-new fourlane I-20. I was reading (or pretending to read) the latest James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.”
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Richard Chopping’s dust jacket for The Spy Who Loved Me

Jake then goes on to describe Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrival in Dallas in 1963. It just goes to show that Bond seems to pop up in places where I least expect it, in this case it turned out to be a direct reference to literary Bond. I was initially surprised that King didn’t go for From Russia with Love, which had been published a few years earlier but received a very considerable boost after endorsement from Kennedy. Spy was first published in the UK on April 16th 1962 with Viking Books publishing the US edition on April 11th 1962. In the timeframe of the novel King’s protagonist was actually just a few months shy of the US publication of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which was published on April 1st in the UK by Jonathan Cape while the US edition was held up until August of 1963 once Fleming switched his US publisher to New American Library after leaving Viking Press who published the US editions of the previous Bond books.

Strangely enough, The Spy Who Loved Me is probably the least renown or regarded Bond book in the Fleming series.  I wrote about this over at my own blog some time ago.  It was written from the perspective of a 23 year old Canadian woman in the first person.   Vivienne Michel recounts the story of her life and her woeful relationships with men for about two thirds of the book before James Bond even shows up.  It’s a Bond novel where the focal point is not about espionage or even about Bond at all. It’s about the story of a young woman who had been treated horribly by men her whole life and how such a woman finds herself in the precarious circumstances to be in need of a heroic man like Bond.  Bond eventually arrives and through wit, cunning, and physicality saves her from being brutally raped and killed by gangsters at a secluded hotel.
Kennedy_fleming_pd
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Fleming’s novel and King’s novel.  For one thing, on a very basic level there’s this switching of narratives going on in both stories.  Both are told from the 1st person perspectives of their protagonists although King’s protagonist is a young male teacher.  Both books, however, set up expectations for the readers only to divert the reader away from what a reader thought he was getting when he picked up the book.  In 1962, most readers picked up the latest James Bond novel expecting yet another spy thriller.  SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld had just been introduced in the previous book Thunderball, but that novel has its own sordid history.  The word “Spy” is even in the title so a reader who just picked up the

51Lvn5aHZrL

alternate cover for The Spy Who Loved Me, Penguin Edition

book as a literary Bond fan would have undoubtedly expected a new spy thriller.  Instead, readers were treated to a personal narrative about a young woman struggling for independence and respect in her relationships with men in a time where most women were not afforded the same regard as men especially when it came to how they were expected to conduct their personal and professional lives.  Needless to say, this may have been a bit ahead of its time for mainstream readers in the early 1960s. In Stephen King’s book, you have a story about time travel with one of the most infamous days in United States history as the title.  Readers might expect an in depth analysis of the assassination and the historical figures involved.  Well, 600 pages in and the reader spends more time with Jake teaching in a suburban High School romancing the young librarian he was set up with rather than tracking Oswald or Kennedy or engaging in any activity that might alter the timeline.  The book is more about the personal journey than the historical event that triggered the novel.  King does indeed deliver on some things that readers who began reading this book for the historical fiction involved, but it’s not nearly as much as I expected.  Strangely enough I actually find myself enjoying the parts of the story that are completely about the fictional characters more than the instances where the novel returns to the apparent business at hand preventing the assassination.

In one instance, Jake is supposed to be tracking Oswald’s movements when an emergency happens in a crucial moment.  As Jake often reiterates in this novel, “the past is obdurate.  It doesn’t want to be changed.”  Jake is supposed to see if Oswald either acted alone or if he was part of a larger conspiracy.  One way to determine this is by tracking Oswald’s movements during his previous unsuccessful assassination attempt on General Walker who had been widely criticized for supporting racist policies. Jake determines that if he follows Oswald and he attempts to assassinate Walker alone then he most certainly must have acted alone on the fateful day in question.  So, Jake is about to leave his apartment when he gets a phone call and it’s the deranged ex-husband of Jake’s love interest, Sadie.  Jake hadn’t expected to meet Sadie before going into the past so he had no idea that her ex-husband was going to try to kill her on the very pivotal day that would have set the stage for his mission to save JFK. Of course, Jake opts to abandon his plans to follow Oswald in order to save Sadie. If this sounds a bit familiar it’s probably because in a way it’s a little similar to how Bond encounters and saves Vivienne Michel in Fleming’s novel.  Of course, Bond wasn’t a time traveller but he was a man who came to the rescue of a woman in need, a woman at the mercy of dangerous men.  Rather than being of the mindset of having more important fish to fry (if you recall SPECTRE and Blofeld are active threats at this point in the literary Bond timeline), Bond decides that saving Vivienne is the most urgent thing to do at that moment in time.
Sadie’s own history with men even parallels Vivienne’s to some degree because while Vivienne’s life hadn’t been threatened by her former lovers we learn about in the first two thirds of the novel, she had certainly suffered through abusive relationships.  In King’s book, Sadie recounts her husband’s suppressive attitudes towards sex to the degreee that he put a broom in between them on the bed and only allowed her to sexually gratify him with her hand instead of engaging in any kind of affectionate behavior. Indeed, Sadie could have easily arrived in the Texas town of Jodie with the same mindset that Vivienne used to open the start of The Spy Who Loved Me. Reading Vivienne’s words after learning about King’s character in his book almost feels like the two characters are echoes of each other.
“I was running away.  I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.”
Although I haven’t had a chance to properly dive into the Fleming letters in The Man with Golden Typewriter just yet, for this occasion I decided to peruse what I could find regarding The Spy Who Loved Me.  Here’s what I found. In a letter dated April 18th, 1962, Fleming replies to a Mrs Florence Taylor from Ford’s Book Stores,Ltd who wrote back a rather negative review of the novel after receiving an advance copy.  In her letter she described the novel as “a great disappointment” and went on to say that “I do hope that this is not a new trend in your style of writing.
Ian Fleming replies with grace and decorum:
Ian-Fleming-in-his-Study-009
” It was really very kind of you to have taken the trouble to write to me and I was touched by your affection for James Bond.
The point is that if one is writing about a serial character one’s public comes to want more or less the same book over and over again, and it was really to stretch my writing muscles that I tried to write like a twenty-three year old girl and put forward a view of James Bond at the other end of the gun barrel so to speak.
But this is a unique experiment and I have just completed the next Bond book, I think the longest yet [he doesn’t say this but he’s referring to OHMSS], in which he appears from the first page to the last.
Again with many thanks for the kindly thought behind your letter.”
The very next letter to Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape further illustrates Fleming going into a rather defensive mode about The Spy Who Loved me to the point of declining a 2nd print run for the novel and for the book to be witheld from the Pan editions.  Clearly, Fleming felt that his experimental approach to this Bond book failed to resonate with readers the way he had hoped. Of course, the next novel would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which resulted in a resounding return to form, but I still wonder what other Fleming books might have been like if his experiment with The Spy Who Loved Me worked.  The possibilities would have been limitless at least for the few more Bond novels that remained to be written before Fleming’s life was cut short in August of 1964.
All those purist out there who think Bond stories must all conform to Fleming’s blueprint should also realized that even Fleming himself was open to experimentation with his books.  As for the similarities between Stephen King’s novel and Fleming’s disavowed Bond book, perhaps they are merely coincidental, but even if they are it’s impossible to deny that certain echoes exists within common story threads.  Whether we choose to see them or not, these echoes are out there for us to find if we want to, not just as they pertain to Bond but as they pertain to life in general.  Anyhow, I just found it rather strange that while I had embarked on a rather decisive non-Bond reading experience, it all came back to Bond in the end.
I initially published this piece on the James Bond Radio Podcast site but I have recreated the piece here for your convenience.
Sources:
1. King, Stephen 11/22/63. Scribner, 2011
2. Fleming, Ian The Spy Who Loved Me. Jonathan Cape, 1962
3. Fleming, Fergus The Man with the Golden Typewriter. Bloomsbury USA, 2015

The Next Threat for Bond 25

Aside from all the click bait articles surrounding Daniel Craig’s status as Bond, the one recent article containing an actual relevant quote pertaining to the future of the Bond films came from the Norwegian film / media site filmweb.no . (update: you can find a proper translated version here)

James Bond Spectre auksjon

Michael G. Wilson

Once you let Google Translate work its magic, you’ll find an article largely focused on the recent London auction of SPECTRE props and vehicles, most notably an Aston Martin DB10 which sold for £2,434,500 (or $3,375,896.81). The article goes on to mention that they had the opportunity to chat with Gregg Wilson, son of EON producer Michael G. Wilson.  Both Gregg and his brother David have done extensive work in the Bond films.  David went on to become the executive producer of the Bond video games while Gregg has worked as both assistant and associate producer since Quantum of Solace (2008). Gregg goes on to briefly describe his earliest experiences in the Bond universe.  He is quoted as saying:

The first memory I have of the Bond films is from set of “Octopussy” (1983). I remember that I visited the huge circus set. It was a very magical moment for a little boy. Later, I also remember that I visited the sets of the Timothy Dalton films “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “Licence to Kill” (1989). There is something very special about walking into a Bond set, you feel right away that you are in a different universe.

He recounts working with David Arnold on the soundtrack to The World is Not Enough (1999) and then working on every film since Die Another Day (2002).  He also describes script development as a real passion of his, and it sounds like SPECTRE (2015) marks the first time that he had the opportunity to get involved in this process.

Gregg Wilson and Michael G Wilson

Gregg Wilson and Michael G. Wilson

The most fascinating part of the article comes at the very end, however, which is something I can’t imagine any reasonably competent British or American editor allowing in this day in age.  The topic is none other than “The Future of Bond.”  Here Gregg gives us the first glimpse into what the thought process is right now at EON during the earliest stages of planning for Bond 25:

“We’ve just begun to doodle with ideas for the next movie. Each script process begins when we ask ourselves the question: ‘What is the world afraid [of] now?.’ In the case of “SPECTRE” was the theme global monitoring and utilization of information. So now we are trying to find out what will be relevant in the coming years.”

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Gregg Wilson

He further elaborates:

“We always want to do something new with the Bond character and see him in situations we have not seen him in the past. We must give the audience something new every time. After noon movies are not always easy. But often it helps to go back to Ian Fleming’s novels for inspiration, whether you’re talking about grades or mood, says Wilson who is pretty sure Daniel Craig reprising the role agent 007 in “Bond 25”.

Now of course this isn’t much to go on.  I suppose we have all figured that EON has always thought along these lines in order to make each new film relevant, viable, and interesting to modern audiences, but to actually hear someone from the inner circle talk about the process even in the vaguest terms … well, that’s enough to send most hardcore Bond fans into a bit of a frenzy.

So, let’s take a moment to consider real world threats that might somehow potentially play a role in Bond 25.  It’s safe to assume that if Craig returns, SPECTRE / Blofeld will be the main source behind the threat, but let’s set them aside for now and just look at what threats are out there assuming that SPECTRE is malleable enough that it can manipulate any number of disastrous occurrences within the Bond universe.  The threat that probably springs to everyone’s mind immediately is that of terrorism.   It’s a horrible reality of living in our times that the threat of terrorism has become something that we have to contend with and confront no matter where you live. In the Bond universe, we already know that SPECTRE were planning to blow up a stadium full of people in Mexico City before Bond intervened.  In the real world, there is state sponsored terrorism, rogue non state-sponsored terror cells, and lone wolf attacks, any of which can result in enormous tragedy.  There is also cyber terrorism, which Skyfall touched on to some extent before Silva’s motivations were revealed.

How could Bond 25’s theme explore a terrorism threat?  Well, that’s easy. Bond would have to thwart a potential terrorist attack James Bond runningsomewhere in the world hopefully outside of the UK.  I have no doubt that a decent movie could be constructed from such a basic plot, but doesn’t that sound like the plot of a lot of other typical action movies?  Surely, there would have to be more to it than that for it to work as Bond film.  There would have to be global consequences at stake, exotic locations, and a beautiful woman or three to either help or impede Bond’s progress.  Still, this is Bond and while I’m sure we all would want 007 on our side to protect the world from terrorists, I think it’s safe to say that EON might want to go with a more complicated threat.

Beyond terrorism, there has always been a threat of an attack from a rogue government.  Recent rocket testing in North Korea as well as the treaty brokered with Iran have made governments and citizens around the world extremely nervous about the threat of either of these countries achieving nuclear capabilities.  While I’m sure EON would like to avoid inserting real world global politics into Bond, the idea of Bond thwarting a potential rogue country’s nuclear strike is one that I think might have appealed greatly to Ian Fleming.  Of course, in Thunderball we witnessed Bond thwarting SPECTRE’s plan to hold the world to ransom by stealing nuclear warheads. In that case, it wasn’t an actual government Bond was up against because it was SPECTRE behind the threat, but what if Bond had to go up against a government.

ian_fleming_19640817_hr

Ian Fleming, 1964

Was it not Fleming himself who said, “Spying has always been regarded as (a) very romantic one-man job, so-to-speak. A one man against a whole police force or an army.” It’s been a long while since we’ve seen Bond go up against the army of an enemy foreign government.  Craig’s Bond has gone up against Le Chiffre, Quantum, Silva, and now SPECTRE but never has he really butted heads with the armed forces of a sovereign power.  This could potentially also bring back the naval intrigue that has been missing from Craig’s Bond films.  Wouldn’t we all love to see Craig put on a British naval uniform aboard a naval vessel or submarine heading into enemy waters?  I know that’s something I’d like to see.

Moore-Large_1200_603_81_s

Imagine Daniel Craig in a scene like this.

Of course SPECTRE could figure into it in some way by somehow lending aid to the rogue government in question, but I’d like to see Craig’s Bond topple the forces of an enemy despot even if it’s a fictional one.  This potential plot intrigues me a lot more than just having Bond thwart a terrorist threat alone.

One other plot that might hold some resonance for modern audiences has sprung to my mind very recently. It involves the recent terrorist lone wolf attack perpetrated in San Bernadino, California by a despicable married couple in December last year.  The reason why this has resurfaced in the news lately has to do with Apple’s refusal to allow the FBI access to hack into the phone owned by the murderers.  There’s a highly contentious debate being held both in the media and very soon in the court rooms about the liability of allowing the government a backdoor channel into privately owned encrypted technological devices.   Both sides to this debate have very legitimate concerns.  On one side, the government wants to have this access so it can potentially save lives while on the other side people are concerned with government surveillance of the private information and correspondence of its own citizens.

Ben-Whishaw-as-Q-and-Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-in-SpectreGetting back to the Bond universe, I believe that while SPECTRE touched on the issue of government surveillance it failed to really focus on it in any meaningful way.  The film doesn’t really delve into the actual implications of Denbigh’s and SPECTRE’s plot to obtain control over the intelligence networks of nine governments.  Bond 25 could potentially rectify this shortcoming by actually framing a fictional plot around a scenario similar to the one happening between Apple and the FBI.  They could go the conspiracy route. If you think about it, do we actually believe that the government lacks the means to hack into one iPhone?  Maybe the government (the fictional one in the film- that is) has already hacked into the phone, but now feels the need to use the situation as leverage to get legislation to have the means to do this on a broader basis.  I could imagine a scene between Q , M., and the Prime Minister like this one:

M: Were you able to hack into the device?

Q: Of course, Sir. . . I didn’t even have to get out of my pajamas.

Prime Minister: Very well, then. Carry on . . . oh and let’s go ahead and send a writ to (Fictional Company’s Headquarters) ordering them to help us construct a back channel to all their devices.

Q: But sir, I have everything we need.

Prime Minister (to M.): You heard me. Do as I ordered.

Please forgive my quickly and inadequately constructed dialogue, but you must get the gist of where a plot like this must be going.  In this case, it’s the Prime Minister and whoever he’s working with (DUN-DUN DUNNN!!-SPECTRE!!!) who is trying to subvert the political power of the government for their own potential gain or profit.  Perhaps SPECTRE is trying to acquire the technology company in question or maybe they just want to continue with their original plan for global surveillance only instead of nebulous platitudes about democracy and drones we have an actual plot with real characters who have a personal stake in the conflict.  There could even be a sympathetic Bond girl who is on the side of protecting the privacy of citizens or aBond Girl sil femme fatale who might lure Bond into doing her bidding as a counter measure to what M. decides is the right thing to do.

There is so much they can potentially do and I’m sure there are many fascinating ideas I may not have included here.  That’s where you come in.  Please, use the comments section below to discuss what you believe should be the next real world related threat for Bond 25?  More than just plot, what themes would you like Bond 25 to explore? What kind of scenarios would you like to see 007 thwart or infiltrate? After all, Fleming even had Bond work for the enemy temporarily in some stories such as in Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun and we haven’t seen that in the film franchise since Licence to Kill (1989).  Feel free to use this space to bandy about ideas. I know you could come up with good ones.

Editor’s Note:  I originally wrote this article for the James Bond Radio podcast website.  You can check it out on their  site

The Lips of a Killer

Intro:  This was a story I wrote for submission to The First Line, a literary magazine where they provide the first sentence and then you – the writer – must complete the story using their first line.  I found out about it a couple of days before the due date so I really didn’t have much time to come up with something more original. I just thought I’d just give it a shot and write something quick in time to submit using their line: “Unfortunately, there is no mistake,” she said, closing the file.  So, off I went and wrote this story and sent it.  It’s not the greatest thing I ever wrote, but the whole point is to try to do something creative and original.  It’s a bit derivitive of the Mickey Spillane stories I’ve read except it’s told in the 3rd person and I get my detective in a jam that he asbolutely won’t get out of.  It’s a one-off in the truest sense of that phrase since the character isn’t one that I plan to revisit.  As a nod and a wink I named his secretary Vicki using another “V” name.  Mike Hammer’s secretary was named “Velda” in the Spillane stories, but Vicki isn’t quite the same as Velda and you’ll see why.  Needless to say the story was rejected, which is no surprise to me since it didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel centering on a typical detective’s encounter with a femme fatale.  Since it was rejected, I can now share it here.  It’s rare for editors to give any kind of feedback.  I suppose they may have written this to everyone who had a story rejected, but here’s what they wrote: “Really well done, Jack. Several similar submissions, but I enjoyed yours. Just missed. Try us again.” So without further ado, here’s the rejected story.

_______

“Unfortunately, there is no mistake,” she said, closing the file.  The smirk on Mary’s face spelled it out all too well.  Harry took solace in the only source of comfort available to him in that moment – the way she held her cigarette in those delicate fingers, the way her lips curled just before letting out the smoke which seemed to envelop her in all her radiance.  That red gown she wore just for this occasion told him the one thing he should have known all along: that she was dressed to kill.  He had a habit for falling for the wrong type of dame and why should Mary be any different.  Everything about this case felt off right from the start ever since she sashayed into his office like a tigress waiting to pounce upon its willing prey, and yet he was drawn to her.  Even in this moment of ultimate betrayal, even now when there could be no uncertainty, no doubting her unbridled cruelty, he couldn’t resist that face and those curves on her body.  If in some sadistic fashion, she decided to kiss him in this very instant, he would kiss her back and that kiss would be both passionate and sincere.  Despite the very fact that she seemed to be just seconds away from extinguishing his life, he still desired her perhaps even loved her.

As she drew closer to him, he saw the Beretta 9mm pistol in her nonsmoking hand.  Her eyes peered into his as she said, “You were never supposed to see that file on me, Harry.”

Struggling up a smile, Harry replied, “Well then why don’t we pretend that I haven’t, sweetheart.”

Her bare shoulders shrugged conveying her sarcasm, “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” said Harry hoping in vain for some kind of reprieve knowing she’d never fall for it.

Putting down her cigarette, Mary shimmied over to him with all the grace of a ballet dancer holding the gun almost like a toy in her tiny hand, her finger around the trigger.  Mary pressed the business end of the pistol point blank against his chest and proceeded to caress the upper buttons of his shirt. “No dice, Harry,” she said in a mousy voice that would have been unattractive coming out of the mouth of any other woman.

Harry held his breath anticipating the moment of his demise wondering if he’d even hear the sound of the bullet firing.   He had frequently told himself that he didn’t care if he lived or died and that in fact he was prepared to die if the circumstance ever came down to it, but now that death became almost a certainty he wasn’t so sure.  It’s one thing to occasionally flirt with death and to even resign yourself towards an occupation where your life is on the line, but to actually die, to actually take that final breath knowing it to be your last, knowing that every sensation and memory you’ve ever had could just cease to exist at that very instant? Being privy that kind of knowledge could just about terrify any man even one who had already spent decades risking his life.  Harry had been in gun fights before.  Gunfire was nothing new to him, but he had always been armed.  He always had his piece on him.  This was the first time he was disarmed with a pistol pointed at him just inches away from his flesh.  The sweat on his brow intensified while his eyes searched the room for some kind of salvation, some kind of miracle object that might get him out of this trap, and yet there was nothing.

The ornate furniture of Mary’s bedroom had always left Harry bemused. Now the thought of dying in this very room sickened him.  He always found the room dank, but his objections were usually silenced by the dropping of garments in front of him followed by the squeezing of her wanton flesh.   Right now, Harry wished he could summon just about any pleasurable memory of the numerous other women he’d been with but in these final moments she was the one in front of him and therefore his mind would be occupied solely by her.  His rational mind searched for any other alternative only to come up empty.  In this very moment Mary was the only woman who existed. His last and only thoughts would be of her and he found himself both aroused and repulsed by this woman who now stood ready to kill him in cold blood.

Strangely enough she seemed to be reading his mind as she said, “I bet you’re gathering your final thoughts in that internal monologue you’ve got going in your head.”  She paused, “It’s okay to admit it.”

“What is it that you want me to admit?”

“That you’re thinking of us, more specifically me,” she said with a sadistic smile. “I can’t begin tell you how many men have fantasized about me just as they were about to die.”

“That file could tell me,” said Harry.

Mary laughed to herself, “Yeah, I suppose it could.”

“So Sacramento, Seattle, San Antonio, and now New York.  That was all you. Same modus operandi. One bullet in the head and one for each testicle.”

Mary stood quiet and smirked that little grin of hers.  Harry’s brain worked hard to put all the pieces of the puzzle together knowing he stood nothing to gain but determined to solve one last mystery nevertheless.  He focused his thoughts on all the things that transpired to get him to this point.  The moment Vicki, his secretary, announced that he had a prospective new client, giving him that special look she reserved for those times she knew there’d be trouble. He knew he was in for a doozy.  Vicki had recognized Mary’s face from the newspapers.  When she walked through the threshold of his office door, he recognized her too as the recent widow who the coppers had deemed fit to book for her husband’s murder.  Turns out the doughnut squad got it right the first time, but a whole lot of good that did him now.  Mary must have known that he couldn’t resist. Poor Vicki.  Harry imagined she’d take his death the hardest.  There’d always be that night cap she invited him for after a night at the pictures a couple years back.  Vicki may just be the most loyal woman alive because somehow she never let him feel even a hint of remorse for getting back to business as usual the next day when she had clearly wanted more, when every inch of her body felt like it had achieved the ultimate ecstasy with his every touch as he took her that one night. If only he could have brought himself to commit to her instead of brushing her off after one evening of bliss. Harry struggled to remember the sensation of his lips kissing her, but the memory of that sensation escaped him now returning him to the cruel woman standing before him.

“Men are so easy to manipulate,” said Mary. “When I came to you with my sob story about how the cops had railroaded me, you were only too eager to take on my case.”

“For my usual fee,” said Harry.

“But soon after we got to know each other better,” said Mary with a wink, “You began to have a personal stake in the outcome of the case.  You never figured that I was capable of murder, did you?”

“How could I?” said Harry.

The newspapers called her the Black Widow after her fourth marriage ended with the untimely demise of yet another husband. Everyone in the country believed she was guilty as sin but Harry became determined to prove them all wrong.  Although she openly confessed to disliking her husband and marrying him for his wealth, she managed to convince Harry that she had been innocent. Perhaps it was her warm body beneath his that did most of the convincing, but she claimed to have had an alibi for the time period when her husband had been shot.  She claimed to have been at the pictures even producing a ticket stub for the 3pm showing of Pal Joey. After some coaxing the ticket seller and a few ushers remembered her, but Harry now supposed she could have bought the ticket and ducked out of the theater to murder her husband.  What Harry couldn’t figure out was the identity of the individual who must have been helping her.  Mary had no known blood relatives nor did she seem to have many close friends yet there were too many incidents during his time with her that just didn’t add up.   There was the shooting outside his office when they were together, and of course the incident that occurred when they were trying to draw out the real killer of her husband which led to the two of them becoming intimate.

“Tell me who’s helping you, Mary.”

“I suppose you haven’t gotten to that part of the file,” she said.

“You mean it’s there?”

Her mousy voice returned, “Here I am thinking that you discovered it just as I closed the file in your hands.”

“What I saw was that all the killings in the other cities were identical to your husband’s including the details that were not in the newspapers.”

“I don’t suppose you would tell me how you got the file in the first place,” she asked.

“Not a chance,” said Harry.

It wouldn’t be so hard for anyone to figure out that Harry pulled a few favors with the NYPD to get the case file on one Mary Calhoun compiled from each city where the previous husbands had all been killed. George Calhoun, the latest victim, was the wealthiest one yet.  If Harry could only prove her innocence so that she could get away scot free, it would become her biggest score yet.  It was his closest friend, Detective Frank Fisher who had been convinced of Mary’s guilt all along, but gathering all the information on those previous case files took time as well as the pulling of strings. The other investigators from the previous cities had been less than forthcoming.  Frank had come by the office when Harry was out and left the file with Vicki or so Frank told him when he bumped into him at the coffee shop.  Something had come up and Frank had to run off, but Harry was assured that it was there. When Harry returned to the office, Vicki told him the file was gone. It had been right at her desk and it had disappeared.   It didn’t take long for Harry to figure out where it had gone to once Vicki admitted that Mary had stopped by for a visit.  He paid the doorman a fiver to let him know whether or not Mary was in the building.  With confirmation that she was still out, he snuck into her apartment and proceeded to search when he found the file tucked away in a dresser draw among her unmentionables. He flipped through it randomly observing some key evidence about the previous murders when a delicate hand closed the file from behind him.  Somehow she had been expecting him.

With Mary now firmly in control, she took hold of the file and folder and flipped it at him while securing her grip on the gun still pointed at him. She said, “Since you’re going to die anyway you might as well see for yourself.  Go to the page entitled ‘Known Associates’ and I bet you’ll be in for a shock.”

Harry flipped through the pages and there it was plain as day. There was a photo of a woman clearly in a wig but the face was a face he had known, a face he trusted.  It was Vicki and written underneath was the word “sister.”  Harry drew in a breath and stared in disbelief.

“What’s the matter, Harry?  Can’t believe that your trusted secretary would betray you?”

“It can’t be,” said Harry.

“Typical of a man, isn’t it?  You rely on your secretaries to be these loyal confidantes, to do your dirty work, to protect you, to get you your coffee when your hungover, soup when your down with the flu, to be your eyes and ears when your away and what do they get in return?  They get a pittance of a salary when business is booming and an IOU when it’s slow. Then, the kicker is when they fall for you and give themselves over to you body and soul, you treat them like yesterday’s paper in the morning and expect them to just go back to business as usual.”

Harry stood silent until finally asking, “Where is she?”

“You don’t deserve to see her again,” said Mary as she drew in closer.  Just then another figure emerged from the shadows.  It was Vicki or at least the woman Harry knew as Vicki.  Her hair was strewn about like a mess and tears covered her face.

“I never wanted this for you, Harry.” Said Vicki.

Harry’s knees weakened as he knelt on the floor.  He began to plead, “There was always a place in my heart for you, but you know how it is in this business.  It just didn’t seem right for me to be close to anyone.”

Mary laughed, “I bet he’s sorry now, Sis.  How does that song go?”  She began to sing, “Who’s sorry now?/ Who’s sorry now? Who’s heart is aching for breaking each vow?”

“Stop it!” yelled Vicki.

Harry closed his eyes and reached out for Vicki.  She grabbed his hand.  He knew that the pivotal moment was near.

“Don’t go all soft on me now, Sis.  We need to get rid of him just like the others.”

“Just like the others,” repeated Vicki.

Vicki let go of Harry.  Harry began to sob as Mary walked behind him.  In one last desperate gasp, he shouted, “I love you Vicki!”  Then the shot fired though he didn’t hear it.  His body collapsed and as his life escaped him it wasn’t Mary his final thoughts were focused on.  It was Vicki and that one special night they had together.  While the newspapers would ultimately categorize him as just another victim, a sap who fell for the wrong dame, he had one advantage over all the others. He had the blissful sensation of the lips of the woman he loved pressed upon his even if he only felt them for a half a second before his consciousness dispersed into oblivion.